Rachel Bade reports in Politico that Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill “are loath to say anything remotely critical” of President-elect Donald Trump or his agenda for fear of the coverage such actions will receive from Breitbart News.
Bade highlights the case of an article Breitbart ran earlier this month regarding comments made by a top ally of Speaker Paul Ryan, Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), suggesting a plan to avoid (or at the very least postpone) Congressional action on the popular immigration reform issues that propelled Trump to victory. Breitbart’s article on Flores’ comments was picked up by conservative Fox News host Sean Hannity and other Trump supporters, much to the chagrin of Flores and Capitol Hill Republicans critical of Trump’s agenda.
In response to the fear Congressional leaders expressed about receiving critical Breitbart coverage, a Breitbart editor told Bade: “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.”
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.
It’s a novel form of party message discipline that stems from Trump but doesn’t necessarily require the president-elect to speak or tweet himself. Plenty of others are willing to do it for him.
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.”
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