“As great as this president is, he’s occasionally wrong.” So spoke Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, by way of explaining his opposition to President Donald Trump’s tariffs.
He’s not the only one to preface his disagreements with Trump with a display of obsequiousness. A group called Farmers for Free Trade is running a national advertising campaign against the tariffs. In its ad, a Montana farmer says, “We’re very optimistic about the economy under President Trump; however, we’re very concerned about the trade policies from Washington.”
While she’s talking about her optimism, the ad shows footage of Trump speaking in front of an American flag. The farmers have no problem with Trump, you understand. He’s great. The real problem is just those trade policies emanating from ... somewhere in Washington, D.C.
Conservative activist Jim DeMint is taking a similar tack. In a recent tweet, the former senator listed a variety of conservative policies that aren’t being implemented and added, “Trump is doing what he can from executive, but Congress isn’t keeping pace.”
Never mind that Trump has come out in public against two of DeMint’s causes. (First: The president has said he wants earmarks to be allowed again. Second: Although he himself ended the temporary legal status for people who came to the U.S. illegally as minors, he has since repeatedly expressed support for such protections.)
Sen. Rand Paul, meanwhile, is vowing to filibuster two of Trump’s nominees, Mike Pompeo for secretary of state and Gina Haspel for director of the CIA. But he won’t come right out and say it’s because he disagrees with the thrust of Trump’s foreign policy. Instead Paul couches his critique as though Congress needs to protect the president from evil counselors: “I can’t support people who never understood America First and want to manipulate the President into the sphere of the neocons who never met a war they didn’t want to star in.”
Paul may have opened a window into the thinking behind this Republican verbal tic. In warning that nominees will manipulate him, he is suggesting that Trump is particularly susceptible to manipulation.
Many Republicans seem to have adopted the posture of a courtier in order to manipulate Trump: They can get him to do what they want, they figure, if they do enough bowing and scraping first.
The overdone praise itself implies an insult. The assumption seems to be that Trump is too immature, too volatile or too delicate to listen to differing viewpoints expressed candidly. Or that many of his supporters are.
The praise also reinforces the impression that the Republican Party is becoming a cult of personality around Trump.
President Trump is, of course, too wise, too humble, too public-spirited to want any such thing. Ahem.
Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist. He is a senior editor at National Review, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and contributor to CBS News.