A few days ago I wrote a long item about changing assessments of Donald Trump: which first impressions had held up, and which had called for second thoughts over time.
The last part of the post concerned the main, and depressing, area where second thoughts were necessary. That was the complete failure of the congressional governing party—Paul Ryan and his large Republican majority in the House, Mitch McConnell and his razor-thin Republican majority in the Senate—to stand up either for its institutional prerogatives, as a separate branch of government, or for normal principles of accountability and the rule of law.
In keeping with the concept that if something is worth saying once, it’s worth saying again—and more concisely—here is the ending part of that previous post once more. It’s also been updated to reflect a sad change in the math of the Senate. When I wrote it, John McCain was ailing and absent from the Senate. Now, of course, he has died, and (as I write, when no replacement has yet been named) the Senate has for the moment only 99 members.
Here is the payoff part of the earlier post.
Is there a surprise, a disappointment, and a settled tragedy so far? There is. It is the same one I described last year, in the first summer of the Trump age:
The major weakness these six months have revealed in our governing system is almost too obvious to mention, but I’ll name it anyway. It is the refusal, so far, by any significant Republican figure in Congress to apply to Donald Trump the standards its members know the country depends on for long-term survival of its government. A system of checks and balances relies on each of its component branches resisting overreach by the others. The judiciary has done its part; Paul Ryan’s House and Mitch McConnell’s Senate have not. We’re seeing the difference that can make.
At that time, McConnell’s Republicans held 52 seats in the Senate. To constitute a 51-vote Senate majority, which in turn could have begun to put some limit on Trump (by authorizing hearings or issuing subpoenas), three of them would have had to switch their votes to join the other side.