Despite occupying an ostensibly coequal branch of government, “Capitol Hill Republicans have papered over their not-insignificant policy differences with Trump, shying away from any statement about the president-elect that might possibly be construed as critical,” Politico reported Wednesday. Many of these lawmakers disagree with the president-elect on policy issues—trade, infrastructure, Russia, even his reluctance to release his tax returns—but they’re living in fear of Trump’s Twitter following and loyal media enforcers like Sean Hannity and Breitbart News.
House Republicans Bill Flores and Mark Sanford have faced the wrath of Trump’s base this year—Flores for simply acknowledging (even downplaying) his policy differences with Trump, and Sanford for writing a New York Times op-ed in August calling on Trump to release his tax returns. “Nobody wants to go first,” Sanford told Politico. “People are naturally reticent to be the first out of the block for fear of Sean Hannity, for fear of Breitbart, for fear of local folks.”
These early indicators of Republican cowardice should dampen hopes that the GOP will check the president-elect’s authoritarian tendencies. If Trump really does start banning Muslims or rounding up undocumented immigrants by the busload, GOP lawmakers may well sit on their hands out of fear of Hannity, Breitbart, and alt-right Twitter trolls. As depressing as this sounds, remember the lesson of 2016: Things can still get even worse.