Yesterday afternoon, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) took to the Senate floor and announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018 and could no longer stand idly by while President Trump drags American democracy down into the sewer.
"We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals," thundered the senator just moments before informing the country that rather than using his power to resist the president's onslaught against the rule of law, he will instead start cashing checks from lobbying firms or perhaps take some senior fellowship at the Heritage Foundation as soon as he possibly can.
"We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country," the senator droned on, moments before meekly accepting the daily sundering of our country. "It's also clear to me for the moment that we have given in or given up on the core principles in favor of a more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment," the senator said gravely while abandoning his party and the country to that very anger and resentment.
It is a measure of how pervasive President Trump's daily indecencies are that Flake didn't even have to name one. His whole speech was an homage to the subtweet; no further elaboration was necessary — the president had spent some portion of the day cruelly mocking another of his Senate Republican bete noirs, Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), for being short. Corker, for his part, bit back, calling the president untruthful and saying his legacy will be "the debasement of our nation."
But how could these senators turn their sharp words into action?
At Vox, Ezra Klein argues that Corker and Flake should face down their Bannonite primary challengers next year rather than retiring, show them that that this aggression will not stand, man. That Republicans with a conscience will not drop to the mat after absorbing their first punch. As Klein notes, both could conceivably win re-election by running as independents even if they get taken down in their primaries by some crackpot who wants to make CNN illegal.
That would be better than retiring, yes. But it's not going to rescue us from the very real dangers these men have identified. If Flake, Corker, McCain, and any other Republicans willing to stage a Jerry Maguire walkout scene really think that President Trump is a menace to the country, the truly courageous thing to do would be to switch parties and join the Democrats. Go rogue. Flake unfettered! Corker unchained! Republican primary voters will be so angry that their heads will explode right out of their MAGA hats, but who cares, right?
Three Republican senators alone could flip control of the chamber to the Democrats, and they could set their terms. While handing the chamber to Democrats would immediately end the president's legislative agenda, the party-switchers could tell Democrats that they have no intention of voting with them on most policy issues and not to bother bringing anything remotely progressive to the floor: Save your energy, Chuck — we're here to save the country, not pass single-payer.
Their mission in granting the Democrats a Senate majority would be to hand over control of oversight committees and to begin the process of bringing this outlaw presidency to an end. Subpoena the president's tax records. Create new committees to look into President Trump's nasty habit of laundering Caucasian gangster cash through his ugly skyscrapers. Open an investigation into the countless claims of sexual assault and harassment leveled at the president during last year's campaign, as well as the ugly rumors that Trump Model Management served as a pipeline for exploited underage models to arrive in the United States.
Create a new committee to force Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take seriously the ongoing threats to America's electoral system posed by Russian hacking and disinformation. President Trump could also be formally censured by a simple Senate majority for any one of his seemingly endless crimes and normative transgressions. Flake, McCain, and Corker could draft the thing themselves and spend their retirement basking in the glow of media encomia to their greatness.
Basically, they could help turn the Trump Years into the Trump Year.
Why don't they do this? The answer is really quite simple: The lot of them — from Flake and Corker all the way down to reprehensible quislings like Tom Cotton and Pat Toomey — still remain thirstier for the GOP's tax-slashing agenda and the possibility of nabbing another Supreme Court seat for constitutional fundamentalists than they are for the substance of their somberly intoned cliches about the sanctity of democracy.
Does Bob Corker really worry about President Trump starting World War III with a tweet from his Mar-a-Lago toilet? Is he genuinely concerned that the nuclear codes are in the hands of an erratic, vindictive man with impulse control problems and a habit of making rash decisions after being attacked? If he is, why doesn't he do something about it other than watch from the sidelines and make speeches?
As long as Trump's colleagues remain in some kind of Trump Trance and refuse to do anything to — again and not to belabor the point — literally save the human race from annihilation, the only way to do anything meaningful is to change parties.
But instead, Corker's answer to this dilemma is early retirement?
I guess for today's Republicans, nothing says courage like walking away.