Like almost everyone who's ever seen it, I love "Braveheart," Mel Gibson's Oscar-winning epic about Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace. For all the film's violence and gore, the toughest scene to watch is bloodless. It comes when Wallace, on the cusp of once again outsmarting and outfighting the English on the battlefield, signals to his noblemen to charge and rout the enemy… when they betray him. Saddled in their high horses, they smile smugly at the upstart commoner, lead their cavalries away from the fight, and leave Wallace to be destroyed.
I thought about this scene a lot over the last month as President Donald Trump fought valiantly during the partial government shutdown to win funding for the border wall he was elected to build.
In his first two years in office, President Trump has done more to advance conservative goals than any president in a generation. He has accomplished more than most conservatives and Republicans would have thought possible. He not only fulfilled his promise to appoint originalist judges, he has appointed more appellate judges than any president in history over two years.
In Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump found two of the finest judicial minds of this generation. He signed a historic tax reform that eluded both Presidents Bush. He moved the United States Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. After decades — and trillions of dollars — of foreign wars, Trump has challenged the bipartisan establishment consensus and put America First in our foreign policy. He has ended China's exploitation of American trade policy, and defended our military and economic interests around the world.
He guided historic, bipartisan reform of our criminal justice system through a deeply divided Congress. He has gotten U.S. taxpayers out of the international abortion business. He has cracked down on illegal immigration and guided the economy to unprecedented levels of employment, wage growth, and consumer and business confidence.
Donald Trump has been America's own William Wallace against The Swamp in D.C.
And yet, every time the going has gotten tough, when a major conservative victory hung in the balance, when the president has called on his Republican bannermen in Congress to do their jobs, they have turned tail.
For two years, Republicans enjoyed majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate. And yet, congressional Republicans could not muster the votes to repeal Obamacare. They did not end the taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood. They passed ballooning spending bills that ignored the president's plan to balance the federal budget.
And of course, they abandoned him in this monthlong government shutdown. A shutdown fight is a test of wills and party unity. Nancy Pelosi had no trouble unifying her caucus in part because Senate Republicans never lifted a finger to unify theirs. From the first hours of the shutdown, Senate Republican leaders made it clear they were more interested in avoiding blame than in winning a fight. They could have kept the Senate open and forced Democrats to block bills and amendments to re-open the government. They could have forced either a private negotiation or a public debate. But they sat on the sidelines. Instead, they said it was the president's fight to win or lose on his own, even after Democrats used the Senate Republicans' indifference to avoid negotiating at all.
Last week, as the Senate headed toward decisive votes on the president's plan to fund the wall and re-open the government, Senate Republicans lashed out at Vice President Mike Pence, blaming the White House for putting them in a difficult position. Like the treacherous Scottish nobles, Beltway politicians think first and foremost of themselves. Border security was a winnable fight for Republicans. The president understands what congressional Republicans apparently don't: You can't win if you won't fight.
Likewise, House Republican leadership were little better. When Democrats were in the minority in 2016, they held a sit-in on the House floor to focus national media attention on their push for gun control. Yet, House Republican leadership sent their caucus home every weekend this month. If corporate tax cuts were on the line, I'm willing to bet DC leaders would have had an all-hands-on-deck daily messaging blitz. But border security is something main street voters care about, not K Street and Wall Street, so we see little conviction from them.
After the shutdown, the president is still well-positioned to fight again soon. His rescheduled State of the Union address on Feb. 5 gives him a unique opportunity to frame the coming debates about the budget, the debt ceiling, and next year's round of spending bills – especially the bill covering immigration, the border, and the Department of Homeland Security. But the president cannot win these fights on his own.
For two years, all conservative eyes have been on President Trump's remarkable success. But this year, those eyes should turn to congressional Republicans, to hold them accountable before the 2020 campaign and ensure they join rather than duck the fights ahead. The president deserves their support; it's up to grassroots conservatives to make sure they give it to him.