Until now, most Republicans in Congress have tempered their criticisms of Donald Trump. There have been a few exceptions like Lindsey Graham and John McCain but most members of the House and Senate have stayed quiet. They’re worried about angering Trump’s base and they know they need the president to pass their flailing conservative agenda.
With the crash of their repeal and replace effort, though, things might start to change. In the coming months, the 2018 election cycle will begin in earnest. The biggest single factor in the outcome of that election might well be the approval of the President of the United States. With an approval rating in the mid-30s, GOP Members of Congress in competitive districts will probably start trying to distance themselves from Trump.
That’s why the GOP has announced a fast track for tax reform. It’s an ambitious and risky move for legislation that has such broad impact but Republicans know that if they don’t pass it before the end of the year, it’s probably not going to happen, especially if Democrats capture the House or Senate in 2018. However, they can’t afford another debacle like Obamacare repeal. They desperately need a win on a signature piece of legislation. Otherwise, they look like a party unable to govern.
Republicans want to shift the attention away from the beleaguered president and onto some solid legislative accomplishments. Expect tax reform to become little more than a tax cut. After the repeal and replace debacle, nobody in the GOP has the political capital to expend on a complete overhaul of the tax code. A simple cut that will almost certainly disproportionally benefit the wealthy and corporations gives them a relatively easy win and might even help Trump’s numbers to improve.
If they can’t get something done soon, though, watch for Republicans to start abandoning Trump in efforts to save themselves. If they can’t pass legislation, they need to blame somebody. Voters won’t buy the argument that Democrats are obstructionist enough to keep a party with control of the White House and both house of Congress from passing their agenda. That makes Trump the likely scapegoat.
It won’t work. Republicans can’t distance themselves from the president no matter how hard they might try. Just like Democrats who turned on Obama in attempts to save their own skins, Republicans will live or die by Trump’s popularity.