Some prominent Republicans are getting more vocal in their criticism of Donald Trump. Yet from the other side of their mouths, they continue to push for tax "reform" amid the growing chaos. See, they care about the rule of law and the Constitution; they just don't care about them as much as they care about cutting taxes. Again.
Whether he's calling Nazis "fine people," doubling down on nativism by pardoning a xenophobic ex-sheriff, taking a whack at transgender people for the amusement of his rubes or badly lying his way through yet another damning revelation about his Russian connections, Trump has been receiving unprecedented criticism from prominent Republicans. In addition to media favorites like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, House figures like Liberty Caucus chairman Justin Amash are increasingly critical. Even Orrin Hatch – a man with all the aggressiveness of a Keebler elf – has chastised Trump a time or two.
The famously timid Paul Ryan also has made an effort to take a stronger tone with Trump, offering a Charlottesville commentary entitled "Let There Be No Confusion." For a nation that has been wondering where exactly the line is for Trump's fellow Republicans – when they'll stop tolerating the president's authoritarian behavior – this sharper tone seems like a sign that they're tiring of his act.
At the same time, though, Republicans are making it clear that talk is all we are going to get so long as there is any chance of pushing through tax cuts before Trump has a Chernobyl-level meltdown. If the breakdown of the rule of law and the institutions of government troubles them, it doesn't trouble them enough to give up the prospect of getting the wealthiest Americans their 100th tax break of the last four decades. The GOP claims its corporate tax cut from 35 percent to 15 percent will not raise the debt, an assertion that relies upon the repeatedly disproven claim that economic growth will skyrocket after tax cuts. Paul Ryan urges you not to notice that due to extensive loopholes, American corporations currently pay nowhere near the nominal 35 percent rate. Oh, and they're also sitting on $2 trillion in cash, which negates the argument that investment is being held back by the tax rate.
It's good to have priorities.
Ryan is in a better position as Speaker of the House to do something to rein in Trump than anyone in the country. If it bothers him that the president surrounds himself with white supremacists, attempts to convince key senators to obstruct the Russia investigation to his benefit and pardons a guy with a truly horrific record of using the Fourth Amendment as a door mat, Ryan should recognize that he and his large House majority are the Constitution's prescribed remedy for an out-of-control president.
Trump's Republican critics may be sincere. It makes sense they're getting fed up with having to answer for a guy they didn't want as a nominee in the first place. The Trump circus has derailed all attempts to focus on the GOP agenda. So surely at some point they'll tire of him, if for no reason other than self-interest.
Tired or not, though, they cannot break free from the deeply cynical strategy of ignoring what a disaster Trump is for supposed Republican principles like limited government, adherence to the Constitution and defense of the rule of law for as long as they think they can get some of their regressive agenda passed. Ryan's public championing of tax reform amidst a major natural disaster and the ever-worsening revelations about Trump's connections to Russia is almost surreal, a real-life version of the dog in the "This is Fine" meme; just ignore the flames and focus on important things like giving millionaires what they want.
Their priority will not change no matter what Trump does and no matter how many vastly more pressing problems confront the nation. The core principle of the GOP is to make the rich richer, and that is more important to people like Ryan than any of our institutions. As reality dawns on the naively hopeful GOP members who believed they could "manage" Trump, their willingness to keep the nuclear codes in the hands of a giant toddler says a lot about their values.
In their more reflective moments, Republicans may be troubled by what is happening in the White House. Too bad they're not troubled enough to do anything about it. As the great democratic theorist DMX once famously noted, "Talk is cheap, motherfuckers." All the anguished and disapproving tweets in the world don't matter when Republicans are still cynically and selfishly trying to use this unfolding disaster as cover to revive the same discredited economic policies they've been pushing for decades. Soon we'll reach a crossroads where they'll have to choose between the Constitution and making Tax Day easier on the Koch brothers. Their recent words and actions don't inspire much confidence that they'll make the right choice.