There may be no sadder political figures in the era of Donald Trump than the Republican Furrowed Brow Caucus.
You know these folks. They are the members of Congress who occasionally step in front of cameras and intone – deeply, sorrowfully, with the full weight of their responsibilities as elected leaders of the greatest nation on Earth weighing heavily on their shoulders – about how disappointed they are with the president’s latest outrage. They are upset. They are distressed that Trump is demanding his Attorney General imprison his political opponents or insulting our foreign allies or any one of the countless outrages he has perpetrated on norms and governing institutions in the last two-plus years.
The Furrowed Brow Caucus in the Senate has included the now-retired Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse and Susan Collins. All of them have at one time or another pronounced themselves opposed to something Trump is doing while continuing to vote almost unanimously for his legislative agenda. Their argument is that they are still conservatives who want to enact conservative policy and will continue to do so while furrowing their brows in concern for the cameras.
What none of these senators seem capable of recognizing, or at least admitting, is that every legislative victory they grant the president serves to encourage him and cement his status as a hero with the Republican Party base. In Trump’s mind, then, he doesn’t need to change anything about his behavior because, despite all the concerns the Furrowed Brow Caucus likes to express, he’s winning.
To no one’s surprise, newly elected Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah has joined the Furrowed Brow Caucus. He made that known on Tuesday night after a State of the Union speech in which Trump demanded that all investigations of his administration cease lest he pull the thriving economy down on everyone’s head.
CNN’s Manu Raju caught up with Romney afterwards to ask him about the idea that probes of the administration would hurt the economy:
Romney on Trump saying Dem probes may hurt economy. “I am not going to go through and pick out items that people might change or that I might have change. Overall, you have to say this was an address that laid out the President’s agenda,” saying agenda is “strong” tedbarrettcnn
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 6, 2019
Inspiring, inspiring stuff.
It might seem unfair to single out Romney, except that the day before his inauguration, he made a point of letting the public know he would not be Donald Trump’s stooge. In a sweeping Washington Post editorial that condemned the president’s character right in the headline, he said:
“[A] presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow “our better angels.” A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect. As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring. […]
But I will speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.”
So after a State of the Union speech in which Trump accused Democrats of cheering for infanticide, took a brave stand against the non-existent threat of a socialist takeover and flat-out lied about a “crisis” on the southern border and a tide of undocumented immigrants harming the country, Romney’s response was a milquetoast statement about the president’s “strong” agenda.
True, as a freshman senator there was never any reason to believe Romney would do anything more than back the party line. Which is what makes it so annoying that he pretended otherwise. Why bother pretending you will be different when no close observer of the way Majority Leader Mitch McConnell keeps a tight grip on his caucus, or anyone familiar with Romney’s career, could possibly be fooled into thinking you mean it?
The Furrowed Brow Caucus, at least, continues thriving in the new Congress.