Congressional Republicans aren’t backing Trump to the hilt because they lack backbone. They’re backing him because they support him on the merits:
The most common explanation for this stalwart commitment is simply fear. “Across the country,” reports The Washington Post, “most G.O.P. lawmakers have responded to questions about Trump’s conduct with varying degrees of silence, shrugged shoulders or pained defenses. For now, their collective strategy is simply to survive and not make any sudden moves.” The former Arizona senator Jeff Flake made a version of this point last month, when he said that most Senate Republicans — “at least 35” — would vote to remove Trump if it were on a secret ballot.
The reason for the fear, in this telling, is the Republican base and its total commitment to the president. This overwhelming support is a threat to almost any lawmaker who breaks ranks. Challenge Trump and you may end up in a primary against a more MAGA-compliant opponent.
I think there’s another explanation — one that accounts for Republican behavior without casting these lawmakers as would-be dissidents.
On most issues, congressional Republicans don’t actually disagree with or disapprove of the president. They might find him coarse and occasionally abhorrent — when he was still the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan took a shot at Trump after his “both sides” remarks regarding the white supremacist march and violence in Charlottesville, Va. — but that doesn’t mean they have a problem with his administration.
And why would they? Despite his somewhat heterodox campaign, Trump has been a remarkably conservative president. For most Republican lawmakers, to oppose Trump would be to oppose their own interests.
Most Republican lawmakers were sent to Washington to fight for spending cuts, lower taxes and conservative judges. Why would any of them stand against a president who has delivered on each count? Trump has taken an ax to domestic spending programs for the poor — his Agriculture Department just proposed new cuts to food stamps; he signed a tax cut that funnels trillions to the highest earners; and he stacked the federal judiciary with right-wing ideologues. It’s hard to imagine a better outcome for a conservative politician.
Never Trumpism, such as it was, was mostly based on the fear that Trump wasn’t really a conservative. Once it was clear that he was going to govern as the most orthodox Reaganite, it was going to vanish almost entirely.