It is August 2017, and you are a principled Republican member of Congress. You are appalled by the president’s character; disturbed by his erratic behavior in office; upset by his defenestration of democratic norms; and increasingly worried about the apparent abuses of power in his administration. While you have voted overwhelmingly to confirm his nominees and advance the conservative legislation he supports, you have also made a point of periodically voicing your concerns in media interviews and measured op-eds. You’ve expressed disapproval of the president’s Twitter feed, and parted with him on the issue of Russia sanctions.
Are you doing enough?
This is one of the most polarizing political questions of the moment. To Donald Trump’s opponents, the answer is laughably obvious: Of course congressional Republicans aren’t doing enough to hold the president accountable, they argue. Most GOP lawmakers are bending over backwards to excuse and ignore Trump’s bad behavior, while those few who do routinely speak out are still voting with him 93.5 percent of the time. They are all talk and no action: corrupt partisans posing as leaders.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the divide, a popular genre of GOP apologia has emerged to contend that Republicans are being held to an unrealistic standard; that in fact they’ve already done plenty to stand up to Trump. Sure, they’ve voted for conservative bills, the reasoning goes—they are conservatives, after all! But that doesn’t mean their public criticism of a Republican president can be dismissed. As the conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru recently put it: “They’re falling pitifully short only if the baseline expectation is that they do whatever liberal journalists think it’s their duty to do.”