Other congressional Republicans will quake in fear at the personal political costs of crossing a president as vindictive as Trump. Skittish House members may think of Eric Cantor’s 2014 primary defeat and imagine what it would be like to have the White House weigh in on behalf of an insurgent challenger.
Many Republicans headed for Philadelphia — privately appalled at Trump’s mendacity and his disdain for dignity — will probably calculate that the trade-offs are worth it. That, in a modern political environment, tolerating a bumptious bully like Trump represents the only way to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes and add at least one new conservative justice to the Supreme Court.
Instead, the lasting importance of the GOP retreat may lie in the corridor gossip and late-night conversations among principled Republicans about how to react to Trump in the White House. As the first weekend of the Trump presidency demonstrated, Republicans have to decide how far they are willing to go in their Faustian bargain with the erratic narcissist in the White House.
With Donald Trump making an appearance, the featured item on the agenda will be order and timing of Republican legislative priorities. In normal times, nothing would have more heft than a new president’s legislative agenda from tax cuts to repealing Obamacare.
Congressional retreats are generally of interest only to lobbyists, policy analysts and Capitol Hill reporters. But when the House and Senate Republicans retreat north Wednesday to the Loews Hotel in Philadelphia, their three-day, corporate-sponsored conference may hold lasting significance.