Donald Trump punches back at Republican critics Jeff Flake and Bob Corker

Trump (above) said Flake and Corker had decided to resign because they could not be reelected.
Trump (above) said Flake and Corker had decided to resign because they could not be reelected.PHOTO: NYTIMES
VIDEO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Donald Trump hit back at high profile critics within his own party on Wednesday (Oct 25), painting them as outliers in what is otherwise a "love fest" between him and Republican lawmakers.

A day after Republican senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker described Trump as having a "flagrant disregard" for truth and decency and of "debasing" the nation, the combative president shot back.

Trying to forestall a party backlash, Trump said Flake and Corker had decided to resign because they could not be reelected.

"The reason Flake and Corker dropped out of the Senate race is very simple, they had zero chance of being elected. Now act so hurt & wounded!" Trump tweeted.

"Jeff Flake, with an 18% approval rating in Arizona, said 'a lot of my colleagues have spoken out.' Really, they just gave me a standing O!" Trump said, a day after meeting Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

"The meeting with Republican Senators yesterday, outside of Flake and Corker, was a love fest with standing ovations and great ideas for USA!" he continued.

LEADER OF THE GANG

Many Republicans privately express grave misgivings about Trump's behaviour in office, but remain publicly supportive.

They see his presidency as the best way to enact long-standing party goals like tax reform and cutting the size of government.

The White House has worked hard to keep the party rank and file focused on those targets amid rolling scandals and failed attempts to pass legislation.

"Working hard on the biggest tax cut in US history. Great support from so many sides. Big winners will be the middle class, business & JOBS," Trump also tweeted on Wednesday.

But Flake and Corker's comments have exposed a simmering battle for the soul of the Republican party.

 
 

Establishment conservatives - who have managed since 2007 to co-opt waves of populist and nationalist party insurgents - have struggled to retain control since Trump's election.

Trump's allies cheered Flake's departure as an unbridled victory for their effort to take over the party and a "monumental win for the entire Trump movement."

It "should serve as another warning shot to the failed Republican establishment that backed Flake and others like them that their time is up," said Andy Surabian a former Trump White House adviser.

The White House and Trump supporters like Surabian point to the President's solid approval ratings among Republican voters as evidence that his brand of politics should dominate the party.

'NOT A WATERSHED'

According to an Economist/YouGov Poll, 84 per cent of Republican voters approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president.

Political science professor Larry Sabato said Flake's attack on Trump was a "beating" for the President, but is "not going to be a watershed".

"I always tell people JFK's book Profiles In Courage was a very slim volume."

Still, while the departure of the two senators seems like a win for Trump, both will remain in Congress for more than a year and will be less likely to fall in line behind the White House on key votes.

Trump had already faced a difficult task of mustering 51 votes to pass tax cuts, an effort that appears to be the glue holding the party together.

There are currently 52 Republican senators, so more than one defection would likely be fatal to reform efforts, unless Democrats can be brought on board.

It is also far from clear that more hardline Republican candidates can beat Democrats in places like Flake's native Arizona.

Trump campaigned hard in the state in 2016 and won by less than four percentage points.