In early December, Rep. Bill Flores made what seemed like an obvious observation to a roomful of conservatives at a conference in Washington. Some of Donald Trump’s proposals, the Texas Republican cautioned, “are not going to line up very well with our conservative policies," though he quickly added that there was plenty the incoming president and GOP Congress could accomplish together.
Little did Flores realize the hell that would soon rain down from Trump's throng of enforcers.
Breitbart seized on Flores' remarks a few days later, calling them proof that House Republicans planned to “isolate and block President Donald Trump’s populist campaign promises.” A conservative populist blogger for the site TruthFeed then warned Flores on Twitter to "get ready for a shit storm," and posted a headline that read: “BREAKING: Rep. Bill Flores Has CRAFTED a PLAN to BLOCK Trump’s Immigration Reform.”
Sean Hannity jumped in, too, featuring the Breitbart post on his syndicated radio show. That only further riled the impromptu anti-Flores mob.
"@RepBillFlores get in @realDonaldTrump way & we will burn your career down until you are reduced to selling life insurance,” tweeted one person. "@RepBillFlores you can go hang yourself!!" another wrote.
It’s little wonder that 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. They’re terrified of arousing the ire of their tempestuous new leader — or being labeled a turncoat by his army of followers.
Again, this is Authoritarian Dictator 101 stuff here: get an official press organ, in this case Breitbart, and use it to brutally punish any politician who remotely looks like they might dissent by drumming up threats and abuse, all made that more effective by the celerity of the digital age.
"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.
Again, basic tyrant stuff here. Those who speak out will be made an example of. It will be exponentially worse starting January 21.
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.
The Republican officeholders see Trump’s unabashed use of his Twitter account to shame critics as the most foreboding threat. During campaign season, he regularly took shots at adversaries, including Marco Rubio (“Little Marco”), Ted Cruz (“Lyin’ Ted,”) and Speaker Paul Ryan (a “very weak and ineffective leader”).
Trump hasn't gone after any lawmakers on Twitter since the election, but some worry it's just a matter of time. Eventually, some Republican will feel compelled to challenge his trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, or slap companies that move jobs overseas with massive tariffs. And that’s when things will get ugly, insiders predict.
The 2018 election will be as much of a purge of Trump's GOP enemies list as it will be a test for the Democrats to see if they can muster any resistance to the Trump regime. I fully expect a number of Republicans to be primaried right out of office, only to be replaced with even more dangerous rabid Trumpian partisans.
It's possible that Trump's regime could collapse under its own incompetence, but in the words of Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, "Fear will keep the local systems in line." Things will move very quickly once Trump has sufficiently consolidated enough power.
History tells that it will not take long to do so once events reach that tipping point.