PORTLAND, Maine – There is a tradition of bull-fighting in southern France that offers a modern metaphor for politics in the United States. It is different from the Spanish matador waving a red cape before a bull, which usually ends badly for the bull.
In the towns of Provence, the bull, or taureau, shares the ring with a dozen or so razeteurs – lean, sinewy young men in tight white pants and shirts. Their purpose is to charm the bull, approach it gingerly, and grab two tassels fixed between its long, sharp horns.
This is very dangerous, which is why razeteurs are maimed or killed. When the razeteurs try to get near the bull, it paws the sand, lowers its head and charges. The men dart, diving over the boards into the stands, taking flight with balletic grace, a smile and a practised nonchalance.
Two things to know: Few get the tassels and the bull lives.
This spectacle brings to mind the Republicans as razeteurs, and the taureau as Donald Trump. For the first 150 days of his feverish presidency, they have tried to ingratiate themselves. They have approved his nominees for cabinet, some singularly unqualified; approved his nominee for the Supreme Court; tried to appeal Obamacare; tolerated Trump’s tweets, insults and rages and generally defended his behaviour.
They have challenged him, modestly. They have denied his proposed budget, money for his wall with Mexico, a program of sweeping tax reform and an ambitious investment in infrastructure. The House has passed his health care bill and the Senate will vote on it soon, but he has no significant legislation. Meanwhile, both bodies have launched their own investigations into allegations of Russian collusion in the presidential election.
And yet, as resistance builds against Trump in the courts, the states, the media, public opinion, among the Democrats and foreign governments, one pillar of support remains: the Republicans.
By and large, the base is holding. Trump’s supporters never cared about his venality, vulgarity or vanity. They love the bull carrying his own china shop. And as long as they remain loyal, so do Congressional Republicans.
Critics hope the Democrats will drive impeachment, the courts will strike down Trump’s executive orders (such as his travel ban) and the states will challenge him on global warming. In the end, though, the only opposition that really matters is among Republicans. Until they crack, Trump is safe.
A handful of senators – Lisa Murkowski, Lindsey Graham, John McCain – have expressed real doubts about Trump. Susan Collins, a GOP moderate from Maine, is one of his sternest critics; she voted against one of his cabinet appointees. In the Senate, though, it will require three defections to deny the Republicans a majority on repealing Obamacare, among other issues.
What will it take for the Republicans in both houses to abandon Trump? Politics is about power, pure and simple: who has it and who wants it.
Watch public opinion. According to a CBS poll on Tuesday, Trump’s approval rating is 36 per cent. (An average of Real Clear Politics polls put him at 40 per cent). If he falls below 30 per cent, his support will crater.
Watch the outcome of the special congressional election held Tuesday in Atlanta. The Democrats have not won other special elections this year, but these were in districts in states such as Montana that are heavily Republican. The Georgia Sixthth was held by a Republican, too, and Trump won it narrowly last fall.
But the Democrats have poured unprecedented money and resources into the district. It has been the most expensive house race in history and is called, with authority, the most “consequential” election in decades.
Power, power, power. The moment they see they are losing it, the Republicans will flee this raging bull. And then, see how they run.
Andrew Cohen is a journalist and author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History. Email: andrewzcohenW@yahoo.ca