You may have noticed that the notion of “enabling” Donald Trump has evolved. Whereas it once meant supporting specific Trumpian policies or reflexively defending him, now it means voting for any conservative issue. No longer is it enough to speak up about Trump, you have an ethical duty to endorse the actions of Democrats. Politically speaking, this is exceptionally convenient. And for many on the Left, it’s the entire point of #resist.
A recent New York Times piece headlined “G.O.P. Senators, Pulling Away From Trump, Have ‘a Lot Less Fear of Him’” reports that some senators are less inclined to acquiesce to the administration’s demands than we’re used to in Washington. Nate Silver contends that this “narrative is a wee bit dubious. So far the average GOP senator has voted with Trump 98% of the time.” This is the predominant talking point on Left Internet.
Silver links to a post that charts congressional votes that are in line with Trump — which is a wee bit misleading and largely irrelevant when we consider how little genuine policy Congress has taken up. Most of those votes are anodyne, and the ones that aren’t reflect Republican positions that predate the president’s unpersuasive conversion to conservatism.
“The Sasse/McCain ‘say mean things about Trump while voting with him all the time’ strategy seems flawed to me,” tweets Vox’s Matthew Yglesias. Perhaps the constituents of Sen. Ben Sasse and Sen. John McCain expect their senators to vote with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on environmental policy. Or perhaps they expect their senators to vote against Trump’s proposals when there are legitimate ideological or ethical concerns, but otherwise to support long-held conservative positions even if the president happens to endorse them.
Being perfunctorily supportive or dismissive of a policy based solely on Trump’s stand is an abdication of principle. I mean, should conservatives vote against bills that further school choice or tax reform until Democrats get their impeachment? Affirmative votes on these issues wouldn’t impede the investigation into Russian meddling as much as they would upset liberal dogma.
Not everything Trump has supported, moreover, facilitates his power. If you oppose executive overreach, you support defanging the executive branch. Voting to confirm Neal Gorsuch, who has championed separation of powers and is a critic of bureaucratic law-making, is more likely to weaken the president than empower him. Obviously, this is not what liberals, fans of big centralized government, have in mind. They’d like Republicans to fashion their obstruction specifically to deal with this presidency ignoring the abuses of the past (though even mentioning this is “enabling.”)
The James Comey situation is another example of the problem with this framing. A number of Republicans believe Comey should have been fired — until recently, there was bipartisan consensus on issue — but also that the firing was poorly timed. It is likely that Sasse, McCain, and other Trump critics would vote against confirming any political lackey for the position. Schumer, though, contends Democrats will stop the confirmation of any FBI director, no matter how qualified or independent, without the naming of a special counsel to investigate the president.
Republicans have no reason to act as if there is a constitutional crisis where none exists. Nowadays, though, anything less than yelling “impeachment” is considered a form of enabling. According to commentator Charlie Sykes, even mentioning that Democrats might have ulterior political motives for some of their hysterics — or anything else, for that matter, that isn’t focused exclusively on Trump — is tantamount to wearing a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.
Would you help Hitler if he happened to have a few good ideas? No. And if you believe Trump is Hitler you’re an unserious observer of history, political life, and American governance. Is Trump a unique threat to the republic? The fact is that Trump has done very little. That could change. But the president isn’t dictator, nor, by the way, is he the pope. Siding with a politician on an issue does not imbue you with his entire moral agenda.
And if your argument is that any vote that aligns with Trump is tantamount to enabling him, then why is Sen. Dianne Feinstein supporting the president 32 percent of the time? Why is Sen. Al Franken doing it 26 percent of the time? Is he only a 26-percent believer in fascism and sedition? I assume these senators vote with the president because they either agree with him on those particular issues or they support the administration of government.
Now, obviously, as a political matter, Republicans have brought much of this on themselves by nominating and electing Trump. From my perspective, much of what the president says and does is inexplicable or harmful. It makes no sense to compound that mistake with a surrender on issues that do matter to an opposition that is less concerned about preserving law than they are about furthering their own political fortunes.