Even after Hurricane Helsinki, Donald Trump’s Republican critics still find themselves shouting into the wind.
While more Republicans than usual criticized Trump’s dizzying news conference with Vladimir Putin earlier this week, the possibility of a sustained backlash inside the party is already dwindling. It’s splintering against the same rocks that quickly ended the uprising last summer over the president’s comments on white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia: the refusal of congressional Republicans to offer more than cursory questioning of his behavior, much less impose any consequences for it. “People are not on board yet for really taking him on,” admits Bill Kristol, the longtime conservative strategist and leading Trump critic, in an interview.
Trump’s Republican skeptics, both inside and outside of Congress, agree that GOP officials who privately rail about Trump won’t publicly challenge him, primarily because polls show he’s so popular with the party base. But that’s partly a self-fulfilling prophecy: One reason Trump is so popular with the base is because no one has made a systematic case against his presidency from a Republican perspective.
A handful of Republican elected officials, and a slightly longer roster of party strategists and intellectuals, have intermittently criticized Trump for his attacks on federal law enforcement, his racially divisive language and actions, his assaults on the Western military alliance, his trade wars, and his obsequiousness toward Putin. Often, those critiques have been eloquent and impassioned. But, judging by Trump’s towering Republican approval ratings, they have left little imprint.