A commenter observed recently that a “moderate Republican” in Congress is someone who talks about opposing some Republican bill before voting for it. (In a few cases, the scam is casting a meaningless nay vote once McConnell has counted the votes.) And since the media is already getting ready to crown John McCain a mavericky critic of Trump because he might grumble about Trump a bit before voting pretty much a straight party line, this is a useful preemptive corrective:
A more accurate way of phrasing “(ambivalently, agonizingly) taking on the president” might be “not actually taking on the president.” McCain has supported every one of Trump’s nominees besides one: budget director Mick Mulvaney, who lost McCain’s support because he has supported defense budget cuts. McCain’s sole inviolable principle is that we must spend an unlimited amount of money on war with everyone forever.
In 2008, the press mostly, finally fell out of love with McCain, in part because he was running against Barack Obama, but also because it became painfully clear that McCain was and always had been a mostly unremarkable party-line Republican, whose obvious discomfort with the far-right was not actually supported by the backbone necessary to challenge the far-right. Now, with a deranged Republican president and a wholly Republican Congress, McCain will once again try to paint himself as a voice of reason and a courageous truth-teller, while not actually doing anything.
And it’s not just McCain either. Anonymous quotes given to journalists are worth nothing. And during the 2016 campaign, as most of you remember I was driven to distraction by Republican politicians who tried to come up with various ways of pretending that their endorsements of Trump weren’t really endorsements. Even a lot of liberals seemed to take Ted Cruz’s non-non-endorsement of Trump at the convention as some sort of act of principle rather than the “I wash my hands of him if he loses but I will support him if he can win” having-it-all-ways it obviously was.
If you oppose Trump, you do something concrete to oppose him. If you would prefer president Pence but are willing to use President Trump as a vehicle to advance Coolidgenomics, you’re a Trump supporter, no matter how much you grumble or whether or not you can look your daughter in the eyes.