WASHINGTON - This was another week when America went about business as usual, while here in the nation’s capital political leaders were fighting a not-so-civil war.
President Trump and a growing band of his Republican critics were intensifying their attacks on one another that plunged political discourse to a new low.
Trump’s job approval polls were sinking. Republicans were said to be playing defense in states they won last year. And GOP control of Congress after next year’s mid-term elections was suddenly in doubt.
The battle exploded anew late last week when former president George W. Bush lobbed a fusillade of withering criticism against Trump in a speech that never mentioned his name. But seemed to include some of his critics.
“We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together,” Bush said.
“Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions — forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.”
“We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism —forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America,” he continued. “We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade — forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.”
That set the stage this week for a volley of speeches and off-the-cuff remarks by other Trump critics, including two Republican senators who announced that they are not seeking re-election next year.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, in an emotional address to the Senate on Tuesday, said Trump’s behavior and deportment were “dangerous to our democracy.”
“We must never adjust to the coarseness of our dialogue, with the tone set at the top,” he said. “We must never accept the… personal attacks, threats against principles and freedoms and institutions and flagrant disregard for decency,” he told the Senate.
At the same time, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters that he'd seen no improvement in Trump’s blunt, two-fisted way of dealing with his party’s critics.
“I’ve seen no evolution in an upward way. As a matter of fact, it seems to me it’s almost devolving,” he said.
Trump made a rare trip to Capitol Hill Tuesday to the private weekly luncheon for GOP senators to discuss the future of the party’s tax cut plan. But senators leaving the meeting said the president didn’t talk much about the tax legislation, focusing most on a recitation of what he has done over his first nine months in office.
That could end up being a huge mistake because of the razor-thin majority in the Senate that needs virtually every Republican to win its approval. One of those votes now in doubt is Corker, a longstanding critic of budget deficits.
The U.S. Treasury released a report last week that showed the deficit for fiscal 2017 alone ballooned by $80 billion, to $666 billion, the result of weaker tax revenues due to tepid economic growth under the Obama administration.
Trump has repeatedly punched back hard in response to Corker’s criticisms, saying in one of his many Tweets last Tuesday that the senator “couldn’t get elected dogcatcher in Tennessee.”
He may regret those words if his tax cut bill loses by a single vote (Corker’s) in the Senate.
Meantime, Trump has plenty of troubles of his own, including his declining polls.
The latest tracking survey by the respected Gallup Poll showed the president’s approval rating nearing his all-time low, falling to just 35 percent, down from 38 percent in the previous week.
Gallup’s national survey of 1,500 Americans found that 60 percent disapproved of his performance in office.
He did a bit better in the Rasmussen Reports survey, the most conservative of the nation’s pollsters, but still not much to brag about.
According to its daily presidential tracking poll, Trump drew a 41 percent approval rating on Monday, versus a 58 percent disapproval score.
Many issues are driving his polls down, but chief among
them is the president’s proclivity to beat up members of his own party who don’t deserve it.
Jeff Flake, for example, is one of the Senate’s dyed-in-the-wool, pro-growth fiscal conservatives who is a leader in the tax cut movement who’s fought wasteful spending.
He has earned a lifetime average score of 96 percent from the arch-conservative Club For Growth, “a distinction few have earned,” the group said.
Someone in the White House should tell the president that Flake doesn’t deserve condemnation. He deserves a medal.