Since the election, numerous congressional Republicans have refused to publicly weigh in on any Trump proposal at odds with Republican orthodoxy, from his border wall to his massive infrastructure package. The most common reason, stated repeatedly but always privately: They're afraid of being attacked by Breitbart or other big-name Trump supporters.
"Nobody wants to go first," said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who received nasty phone calls, letters and tweets after he penned an August op-ed in The New York Times, calling on Trump to release his tax returns. "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."
An editor at Breitbart, formerly run by senior Trump adviser Steve Bannon, said that fear is well-founded.
“If any politician in either party veers from what the voters clearly voted for in a landslide election … we stand at the ready to call them out on it and hold them accountable,” the person said.And they've co-opted the ones they haven't chilled. Tim Alberta reports at National Review:
Republican Hill staffers have wrestled in recent months with how to respond to inquiries from Breitbart or other pro-Trump bloggers. Engage them or ignore them? One GOP aide told POLITICO members are “damned if you do, damned if you don't." Another said it's having a "chilling effect" on GOP lawmakers.
[Mick] Mulvaney is one of them. In June, he conceded there had been surprisingly little conservative opposition to Trump, but promised that Freedom Caucus members would hold the Republican nominee to the same standard as Obama — particularly on the issue of executive power. “I’m not concerned about Donald Trump shredding the Constitution, because I know the people who stand in the House between him and the Constitution,” Mulvaney told me at the time. “We’ve been fighting against an imperial presidency for five and a half years. Every time we go to the floor and push back against an overreaching president, we get accused of being partisan at best and racist at worst. When we do it against a Republican president, maybe people will see that it was a principled objection in the first place. So we actually welcome that opportunity. It might actually be fun, being a strict Constitutionalist congressman doing battle with a non-strict-Constitutionalist Republican president.”
Instead, he’s joining Trump’s administration.
Mulvaney was recently named director of the Office of Management and Budget, the powerful agency that supervises and coordinates the government’s financial planning. The week before he was chosen, I asked Mulvaney whether he stood by his promises about congressional Republicans’ holding Trump accountable. He declined to comment, because he was waiting to hear back from New York about the OMB post. Freedom Caucus members — and Ryan, notably — issued ecstatic statements lauding Mulvaney’s selection as a sign of Trump’s commitment to fiscal responsibility.
That’s one way of looking at it. Another way is this: Trump just sidelined one of the House’s most outspoken conservatives, someone who repeatedly stood up to Republican leadership, thereby weakening potential intra-party resistance to his administration’s initiatives.