Donald Trump ran roughshod over his GOP opponents in the 2016 Republican primaries. It was a scorched Earth style campaign that left his foes, not just beaten, but humiliated. He didn't merely challenge their policy positions or leadership skills, he used language meant to shame them. Fellow Republicans were viciously maligned as "Lyin' Ted' and "Little Marco." Eventually Trump succeeded in capturing the nomination, but not without leaving bodies on the battlefield.
Those same tactics are now being deployed against the Republicans in Congress. Many of them are saying privately that they are fearful of taking positions against Trump. That poses a critical problem because their traditionally conservative views are often at odds with Trump's twisted brand of populism. Trumpulism favors cordial relations with Russia and its strongman Vladimir Putin. It proposes to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure improvements, mainly benefiting wealthy contractors. It is critical of the U.S. alliance with NATO. It would impose stiff tariffs on American companies with foreign factories. All of these positions are in direct opposition to decades of Republican doctrine.
The problem now is that Republicans are literally afraid to speak their minds. They have been warned by Trump and his surrogates that any diversion from total obedience to his agenda would be viewed as betrayal. As reported by Politico:
"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." [...]
"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."
The threat from Breitbart is a real concern. Especially since its chairman, Stephen Bannon, is currently on leave to serve as Trump's strategic advisor in the White House. But it doesn't stop there. As South Carolina GOP Rep. Mark Sanford said, "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."
Texas Rep. Bill Flores can attest to Sanford's worries. After he made some rather tame remarks at a conservative conference, the Trump enforcers snapped into action. Breitbart began with an article condemning Flores for plotting to "stifle Trump's campaign promises." Sean Hannity of Fox News picked up the story and added his own vitriolic objections. He implied that Flores was using code to tell Trump to "Go to hell." Subsequently, Flores was showered with complaints that included predictions of the end of his political career and even death threats. Never mind that he is one of the most conservative members of the House and a co-founder of its arch right-wing Freedom Caucus.