He did so again Saturday, when the bill scaled another procedural hurdle on its way to likely passage.
The collective GOP shrug in the face of Trump’s attacks could be fleeting. If the infrastructure measure demonstrates an alternative model for Republicans in the post-Trump era, it is not clear whether it represents anything more than a prominent exception to the rule that the former president still enjoys outsize sway over members of his party.
The vast majority of Republicans are opposed to the legislation. House Republicans are as tightly bound to Trump as ever, with many continuing to support his election lies and conspiracy theories about the January 6 attack at the Capitol. And with the approach of the 2022 elections, members of his party will have less and less room to manoeuvre away from a figure whom their base still reveres.
Still, the success of the infrastructure effort was a notable — if tentative — move away from Trump. It suggested that at least some Republicans now believe there is more political upside to be gained from breaking with him than from siding with him unquestioningly, a shift from the calculus that drove them for years.
“I think they take their jobs more seriously than he ever took his,” said Republican strategist Scott Jennings, a former top campaign aide to McConnell, explaining why senators in his party were not swayed by Trump’s latest attacks.
Jennings said their motivation was not so much defying the former president as trying to undercut Democrats’ argument in favour of eliminating the filibuster — namely, that the GOP is a party of unreasonable and irresponsible acolytes of Trump who will reflexively reject any proposal that Democrats support. (McConnell is particularly insistent on preserving the rule setting a 60-vote threshold to advance legislation.)
It was not for lack of trying by the former president. Banned from social media, he beat away at proponents of the deal — including five senators who voted to convict him during his second impeachment trial this year on a charge of incitement of insurrection — via a string of rageful press releases. He called them RINOs (Republicans in name only), describing them as “weak, foolish, and dumb.”
“Don’t do it Republicans — patriots will never forget!” Trump warned in one such missive. “If this deal happens, lots of primaries will be coming your way!”
At first, Republicans braced for a familiar flood of defections from the infrastructure bill, recalling similar instances when Trump was president and any critical word from him about a legislative initiative prompted a swift evaporation of GOP support for the measure in question.
Instead, the response was crickets.
Collins and Senator Bill Cassidy, calmly pointed out that Trump had supported a much larger infrastructure plan in the past but failed to deliver. Portman, who had personally called Trump to encourage him to back the legislation, politely suggested that Trump change tactics and embrace the plan.
When the time came to vote to advance the measure on the Senate floor, the coalition of mostly moderate members found that, contrary to Trump’s efforts, the number of conservative senators supporting their plan had increased, not decreased — with members of Republican leadership, including McConnell and Senator Roy Blunt who is also retiring, joining their ranks.
Several Republican aides said the developments left them feeling that while Trump’s influence over the Senate was not gone, he was diminished.
Indeed, many Republicans said they were puzzled over the point Trump was trying to make. The former president had proposed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package while in office, so his opposition to a leaner bill seemed motivated either by personal pique or a simple desire to see his successor and the opposing party fail.
“It’s not really so clear what Trump’s substantive objection is here,” said Philip Wallach, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “He’s certainly not saying doing an infrastructure bill is bad; he spent his whole four years talking about how great it would be. So all he’s really saying is, ‘Working with Democrats is bad.’ And for a lot of these senators from closely contested states, they figure their electoral base just doesn’t agree that bipartisanship is bad.”
New York Times