Early in his bid for the White House, Donald Trump boasted that his supporters were “the most loyal people.”
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s like incredible,” Trump said.
Despite recent slippage in his poll numbers, it appears Trump’s confidence was well-placed.
And few high-ranking officials have stood by the embattled president more loyally than Rep. Andrew P. Harris, the sole Republican in Maryland’s congressional delegation.
In the seven days since federal law enforcement officers fired rubber bullets and tear gas against peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters in advance of a Trump photo op, Harris has been silent.
The incident immediately aroused concerns for others, however, including some of the nation’s most respected military leaders.
The Pentagon has sought to distance itself from the decision-making that led up to the violence. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday called out GOP members of Congress for their silence. And former Trump Defense Secretary James Mattis said he was “angry and appalled” by the events of last Monday.
But aides to Harris confirm that the five-term lawmaker has yet to address the controversy in any forum. He declined to be interviewed.
“It’s a sickening display of political cowardice,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said of those who have remained silent. “This is a moment that every American, certainly every elected official, should be standing up and speaking out to defend the First Amendment rights of every American to peacefully assembly.”
“Most of us watched in horror as the president and the military police fired rubber bullets and tear gas on peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square to clear the way for a political stunt in front of St. John’s,” he added.
“If that doesn’t get Republican elected officials to speak out, I can’t imagine what would.”
Reached in Texas, where he is awaiting deployment to Africa, Salisbury Mayor and Army captain Jacob Day (D) called Harris “a powerful example of a person who is in a position of power who is unfazed by the response that we saw in Washington, a response that we should be very, very hyper-fearful of.”
“Every elected official right now has a responsibility to really do some pretty deep soul-searching,” Day added. “If you’re incapable of introspection at a time like this, even when it’s uncomfortable… then you probably don’t belong in office.”
Trump carried Harris’ Eastern Shore district with 60% of the vote in 2016. Hillary Clinton received 35%.
“Safe” districts encourage party loyalty, said University of Mary Washington political science professor Stephen J. Farnsworth. “Most Republicans fear [the president’s] wrath.”
Given Trump’s ability to arouse the base, through social media or by encouraging a primary challenge, most GOP officials opt to remain loyal or say nothing.
“There were people who were silent after the president said ‘there were good people on both sides’ [following the 2017 violence in Charlottesville], when he said that COVID-19 would go away, when there was a conversation about injecting bleach, and with the latest military deployments,” added Farnsworth.
Even though candidate Trump disparaged Sen. Ted Cruz’s wife and implied that his father played a role in the assassination of President Kennedy, the Texas lawmaker is now among the president’s most vigorous defenders, Farnsworth noted.
In a rare interview, with WBAL Radio, Harris said he supported Trump’s decision to deploy National Guard troops in the wake of the unrest across the country.
“This can’t go on forever. It just can’t,” Harris told the station. “I think the president is right to say that at some point if these local jurisdictions need other help the federal government has to step in.”
Trump endorsed Harris’ reelection last Monday.
There is little chance that the congressman’s steadfast support of the president will hurt him politically. And he’s considered a shoo-in in November. But critics will remain frustrated by what they characterize as his lack of independent judgement.
“There’s an elected official who is supposed to be representing us,” said Day, the Salisbury mayor. “Does he represent all of his constituents or just those who agree with him?”