It is no secret that many Republicans were unhappy with Donald Trump’s election as their nominee for the 2016 presidential election. Many spoke out against him, assuming that his loss to Hillary Clinton was inevitable. Now that Trump is president, though, will these Republicans continue their opposition or will they simply toe the party line? While some Republicans who had previously been critical of Trump, like Ben Sasse of Nebraska, will no longer be too much of a concern, some Republicans are likely not done opposing him.
Senator Susan Collins (Maine)
Collins would have been a thorn in the side of Republican whips even if Trump were not a controversial figure. Collins is the most moderate Republican in the Senate by a long shot. According to the voting record site On The Issues, her voting record actually suggests that she leans slightly to the left. Furthermore, Collins comes from the light-blue state of Maine that voted for Hillary Clinton by 48 percent to 45 percent, Collins will likely gain more support if she stands up to Trump instead of rubber-stamping his policies.
While Collins may vote against many Trump policies, her soft-spoken demeanor suggests that she will probably not be a loud opponent of Trump. Thus, she will probably not become a standard-bearer of anti-Trump Republican sentiment in the public eye. Still, as a Republican in a Senate held by a slim Republican majority, her vote could make a difference on many key issues and cabinet appointments.
Rand Paul (Kentucky)
Rand Paul deserves admiration for his unapologetic commitment to fiscally small government with no exceptions. Paul’s libertarian values have long made life difficult for Republicans who are unwilling to cut spending in politically sensitive areas. In 2015, for example, Paul refused to cut social safety nets until corporate welfare was cut as well. Paul is also staunchly opposed to US military intervention abroad and has showed numerous times that, unlike his Republican colleagues, he is perfectly fine with cutting the military budget. Given Trump’s stated desire to increase government spending, Paul will almost certainly become an opponent of Trump and his spending in the coming years.
Also, to no one’s surprise, Paul and Trump have had their fair share of personal fights, indicating some incompatibility for working relations in the future. During the Republican primary, Trump went so far as to insult Paul’s looks at the second GOP debate, saying, “I never attacked him on his looks and believe me: There is plenty of subject matter right there.” Trump is likely to go after Paul again as soon as he starts to propose a big-government spending plan, which Paul will inevitably resist. In short, Paul and Trump are not friends, and Paul will likely be on the receiving end of numerous Trump insults.
John McCain (Arizona)
John McCain and Donald Trump do not get along. Simply put, McCain’s no-BS military attitude does not mesh well with Trump’s narcissistic rich-guy act. Many people actually predicted that Trump’s first clash with McCain back in July 2015 would be Trump’s downfall. For those of us who cannot keep track of Trump’s gaffes, that was when Trump insulted McCain by saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.”
McCain is also well known in Washington as being a man who is willing to put aside his personal differences and party loyalties. McCain was chief sponsor of the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002, a bipartisan bill that intended to regulate the influence of money in campaigns. Although part of this act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2010 under Citizens United, John McCain is the reason why candidates have to say, “I’m ________ and I approve this message” after their ads. Through McCain-Feingold, McCain cemented his reputation as a man willing to reach across the aisle.
Furthermore, McCain’s strong stance against torture may prove to be a major obstacle to Trump, who has said multiple times that he would be open to authorizing torture. In fact this clash has already been shown: on January 25, McCain showed resistance to Trump potentially bringing back torture, saying, “The president can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law.”
What makes McCain the biggest threat to Trump is his charisma and experience. McCain is an American hero with decades of political experience. McCain commands massive media attention and garners respect from his peers on both sides of the aisle for his illustrious career in service to this country. Trump would have been wise to attempt to win McCain over as a friend. The time for friendship has passed, and Trump is not one to mend fences, so Trump may be compelled to stay out of McCain’s way.
Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)
Graham is not a moderate (his voting record marks him as a far-right conservative), but his refusal to back down in the face of Trump’s bullying could lead to future sparring.
Graham has repeatedly been insulted and belittled by Trump, straining their relationship. Not holding anything back, Trump told supporters in Graham’s home state of South Carolina: “I think Lindsey Graham is a disgrace, and I think you have one of the worst representatives in the United States, and I don’t think he should run. I don’t think he could run for dogcatcher in this state and win again. I really don’t. Other than that, I think he’s wonderful.”
Graham has a common-sense approach to politics that is antithetical to Trump’s bombastic, superficial proposals. Even though Graham is a far-right Republican, he does not willfully ignore the truth, even to benefit his own party. For example, while Graham does not support many EPA environmental regulations, he still admits that climate change is real. This common-sense approach to the world has already come into conflict with Trump in the context of Russian interference in the election. McCain and Graham recently came together with other Republican leaders to call for an investigation into potential Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump, of course, did not take this lightly and mocked Graham, saying: “He is going to crack that 1 percent barrier one day [in reference to Graham not being able to get 1 percent of the vote in the 2016 Republican primaries]. I didn’t realize Lindsey Graham is still at it.” Clearly Trump and Graham are not on good professional terms, a bad sign for relations in the future.
Graham and McCain have once again joined forces, speaking out together against Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from many Muslim-dominated countries. In a joint statement, the two senators said they believed this order will only make terrorism worse and will not make the American people any safer.
Graham has confronted another Trump policy proposal, coming out against Trump’s poorly-thought-out plan to implement a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports. Graham, famous for his humor, tweeted his opposition to the proposed tariff: “Simply put, any policy proposal which drives up costs of Corona, tequila, or margaritas is a big-time bad idea. Mucho Sad,” he wrote.
Despite Graham’s conservative ideology, he will likely continue to exchange barbs with Trump moving forward. Graham described the situation with characteristic humor. “I don’t know if I’m on [Trump’s] kill list or not, that would be good to know,” he told CBS.
If Trump’s executive power is going to be checked, it will most likely be done by the Senate. The House of Representatives has a huge Republican majority of 240-193 and the Supreme Court will soon be filled with Trump appointees. The Senate, though, is barely controlled by Republicans, 52–48. Since Mike Pence would cast a deciding vote in a tie, a unified Democratic opposition would need to bring three Republicans to their side to oppose Trump. As it has been outlined above, getting some Republicans to vote against their party is by no means impossible. Simply put, the future of opposition to Trump lies in Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democrats’ ability to convince Republicans to vote with them.
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