Since the moment Trump took office, we've witnessed a steady stream of attacks on the administration, not so much for the president's obvious personal foibles but because his election is supposedly ushering in authoritarianism and the end of liberty. To date, despite the constant predictions of imminent doom, the republic and the Constitution still stand, even if many Americans are blushing at Trump's over-the-top statements, boasts, and tweets. The final judgment on whether Trump colluded with Russia or committed other wrongs must await the report of the special prosecutor. But very little of what we've heard or read would lead one to think that Trump is likely to be in legal jeopardy.
This hasn't impeded Democrats from rushing headlong toward their stated goal: Trump's impeachment. Figures such as Tom Steyer, the environmentalist and left-wing mega donor, are ready to fund an impeachment effort; columnists at the New York Times and the Washington Post are cheering them on. In this climate, it's obvious that we're heading toward a moment when American politics will become a zero-sum game whose outcome will hinge solely on Trump's survival. And Trump's survival might depend on how many Republicans are so disgusted with him that they abandon him.
Flake's dilemma is the product of failure. His book tour last summer — in which he proposed himself as the second coming of Barry Goldwater and the conservative alternative to Trump — earned him some favorable mentions on Morning Joe and other liberal outlets, but it bombed among most Republicans. Flake wasn't a strong enough figure to sustain an independent stand among Republicans, but he was also too conservative to attract Democratic crossovers. Even as liberal editorial pages lauded Flake for his Senate-withdrawal speech this week, late-night comedian Seth Myers attacked him by pointing that he'd voted for all of Trump's Cabinet appointments.
It's that last point that ought to serve as a reminder to Republicans: For all of their justified umbrage about Trump, if policy questions still mean anything to them, preserving this flawed presidency against the attacks of Trump's foes is their only hope of getting anything done. That dichotomy is the key to understanding why the anti-Trump manifestos from Flake, Bush, and McCain aren't shifting Republican opinion.
During the presidential campaign, there was good reason for many conservatives to voice concerns like those McCain has recently expressed — that Trump was abandoning the ideals America has advanced around the world. Comments like Bush's recent barb about "nationalism distorted into nativism" also made sense. But for all of Trump's loose talk and Bannon's boasts about purging the party, we haven't, as of yet, seen any massive shift in U.S. foreign policy. Trump's desire for a new détente with Vladimir Putin's Russia has gotten nowhere. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has become a leading administration voice, advocating exactly the kind of global engagement and support for American ideals that Bush and McCain support.
So far, and despite some notable wins, such as on education policy and in the battle against ISIS, the administration has a reputation for incompetence. But, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is fond of pointing out, Trump is still the only Republican who can sign a bill into law. If we are to see tax reform or foreign-policy gains (e.g., reversing Obama's appeasement of Iran), we will require a Republican president. Trump is the only one we've got. Without him, the GOP might as well surrender to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer right now.
It's also worth pointing out that on some issues, such as Iran, Trump has a firmer grasp of the problem than some of the so-called adults like Senator Bob Corker who seek to restrain him. Nor is Trump quite the idiot that his detractors always assume him to be, as he proved this week by brushing back any notion of a cap on 401(k) contributions. What may well be the most conservative cabinet in recent memory — a cabinet that Flake voted for — should also remind Republicans of what's at stake when they support the anti-Trump resistance.
Principled Republicans aren't wrong to be offended by Trump. They aren't wrong to worry about the long-term damage to the GOP brand Trump might do if he can't achieve major policy victories and if he permanently undermines the moral standing of the party.
But at this point, abandoning him — as Flake, Bush, and McCain seem to be leaning toward — will neither save the GOP nor allow it to accomplish anything in what may prove a brief window of opportunity. When else will Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House? Democrats lack any real agenda except a push for impeachment. Are Republicans ready to join them? They must pick a side. They can't be neutral about the man the voters stuck them with. Which is why most Republicans won't follow Flake into the lifeboats while the GOP ship is still afloat.
Commentary by Jonathan S. Tobin, a contributor at National Review Online and opinion editor at JNS.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonathans_tobin.
For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow
©2017 National Review. Used with permission.