Earlier this year, Senate Republicans saved Donald Trump’s presidency from a premature end. Now some of those same senators are acting like they don’t think Trump will be around much longer.
“The best check on a Biden presidency is for Republicans to have a majority in the Senate,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R–N.C.) told Politico recently. And now two Senate Republicans are explicitly criticizing the president.
In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Sen. John Cornyn (R–Texas) claimed to have differed with Trump on several issues, including trade, the debt and deficit, and using military funds to build the border wall. Cornyn described his relationship with Trump as an almost strained one.
Similarly, Sen. Ben Sasse (R–Nebr.), in comments leaked to the Washington Examiner, described Trump as someone who “kisses dictators’ butts” and “sells out our allies.” Sasse went out to say that Trump “mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He’s flirted with white supremacists.” And he thinks young people may “become permanent Democrats because they’ve just been repulsed by the obsessive nature of our politics or if women who were willing to still vote with the Republican Party in 2016 decide that they need to turn away from this party permanently in the future.”
These aren’t the only Senate Republicans to speak negatively about the man in the White House. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) recently criticized the president’s COVID-19 response, saying at an event in Kentucky that Trump was not “approaching protections from this illness in the same way that I thought was appropriate.”
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s response has been heated. On Twitter, he called “Little Ben Sasse” “stupid and obnoxious” and a “liability to the Republican Party” and urged the senator to “gracefully ‘RETIRE.'”
Tillis, Sasse, Cornyn, and McConnell seem to be expecting a Trump loss, and thus may be preparing to stand as a more traditionally conservative opposition to a Biden administration. And Cornyn and Sasse may be trying preemptively to rehabilitate themselves from Trumpism. Both senators face reelection races, and the latter may have presidential ambitions of his own. While both Cornyn and Sasse are likely to win their elections, the fact that they feel the need to emphasize this message is telling.
There is only so much that words can do here. Both Cornyn and Sasse voted against bringing more witnesses to impeachment. Cornyn claims that he was opposed to using a national emergency declaration to fund Trump’s border wall, but voted against a bill that would have stopped just that.
But even empty rhetoric can have political ramifications. Sasse and Cornyn’s comments could be an early sign of a larger Senate trend.