THE DENVER POST |
What do Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have in common? Both men ran presidential campaigns as outsiders to the political parties whose nomination they sought. Sanders ran as a self-described socialist who’s technically elected in Vermont as an independent and merely caucuses with the Democrats in the U.S. Senate as a matter of convenience and ideological proximity. He could have sought the Socialist Party nomination but realized he couldn’t be elected as a minor-party candidate.
Trump, campaigning as a free-wheeling populist, has historically been more connected to Democrats (and the Clintons) than the GOP and is now effectively running as an independent within the shell of the Republican Party. Trump has no consistent ideology. Like Sanders with the Democrats, Trump’s dalliance with the GOP is strictly a marriage of convenience. This arrangement, along with some of his policy positions and personal antics, has put many mainstream Republican incumbents running for reelection in an awkward position. They’ll vote for him, as will I, only because, pragmatically, the Hillary option is far worse.
Rep. Paul Ryan in his leadership role as speaker of the House has, in the interest of party unity, said he’ll vote for Trump but hasn’t flinched from holding him to account for his verbal excesses. This was in the hope that Trump could be influenced to run a more thoughtful and disciplined campaign. In the Aug. 9 Wisconsin GOP primary, Ryan, a steadfast Republican, crushed a challenge from a bombastic pro-Trump firebrand, Paul Nehlen, winning 84 percent of the vote.
Locally, Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman is running for reelection to his fifth term in the 6th Congressional District. This is a swing district that now leans Democrat but one in which Coffman remains popular. But there’s understandable concern that if Trump loses big in Colorado at the top of the ticket, it could carry over to hurt down-ticket Republicans like Coffman. In other states this could cost the Republican Party its U.S. Senate majority.
Coffman, like Ryan, has publicly voiced his differences with Trump on matters of policy and his abrasive demeanor. This isn’t just to reach anti-Trump swing voters in his district. Mike is a close friend whom I’ve known for 30 years. He’s an unfailingly honorable man. To him, this is motivated by his principles. He’s also practical enough to understand the negative consequences to the country of a Hillary Clinton victory. And as a Marine who served in Iraq, he’s outraged at her disgraceful actions, inactions and lies as secretary of state regarding the abandonment and murder of Americans in Benghazi.
Perhaps the strangest attack I’ve heard from a Coffman detractor criticized a television ad in which the congressman assured his 6th CD constituents, “I’m a Marine. For me, country comes first. My duty is always to you. So if Donald Trump is the president, I’ll stand up to him. Plain and simple.” The critic claimed Coffman, as a Marine, would be duty bound under the Constitution to answer to Trump as commander in chief and, under his military oath, “obey the orders of the President of the United States.”
Huh? Yes, in 1951, President Harry Truman fired, for insubordination, five-star Gen. Douglas MacArthur as commander of the United Nations and U.S. forces in Korea. But Marine Corps Maj. Mike Coffman is no longer on active duty. He’s retired and has no reserve status. Now, he’s an elected member of Congress. He doesn’t take “orders” from the president on legislative matters.
Trump, as president or commander in chief, couldn’t command Coffman’s vote on a trade agreement, an immigration bill, tax measures or the defense budget. Of course Coffman can and should stand up to Trump if and when he disagrees. Just as he’d stand up to — perish the thought — President Hillary Clinton.