Flake, Corker can’t break the GOP fever

(CNN) -- Any other President would be facing an existential crisis after being accused by two pillars of his own party of debasing the nation.

Donald Trump, however, was in "high spirits," an aide said, celebrating a big political victory and another step toward transforming the GOP in his own image.

If Trump's presidency ends in disaster, Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake may one day be remembered as heroes who pleaded with the Republican Party to change a ruinous course, after baring their political souls to assail the President on Tuesday, accusing him of trashing the values and norms on which American democracy was built.

Corker and Flake's breathtaking denunciations of the President's character and behavior better serve to reflect the new truth about the 21st Century GOP: if you are a Republican, you stand with Trump or you get out of town.

"It doesn't matter the policies that you adopt or your votes -- it's if you're with the President, and I can't be with the President at all times," Flake said Wednesday on CNN's "New Day." "I'm sorry, I think when the President is wrong, you have to call him out, and sometimes he's wrong. And that's what I tried to point out in the speech yesterday."

Flake, who announced his retirement while salving his conscience in a Senate floor speech, conceded on Tuesday that for a free trade, pro-immigration, limited government, conservative like him, there was no place in Trump's modern populist, nationalist Republican Party.

"We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country -- the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons." Flake said.

Later, he told CNN's Jake Tapper on "The Lead" that "It's not enough to be conservative, it seems you have to be angry."

Corker, who had previously warned that Trump was leading the country on a path towards World War III, told CNN's Manu Raju in an interview Tuesday that the President would be remembered for "the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth telling, just the name-calling."

But for now, Republican lawmakers are choosing not to listen.

Despite detonating double political explosions in Washington, the two senators, who are both standing down after next year's mid-term elections, failed to breach the dam holding back fulminating establishment anger at Trump, who retains rock solid support from his GOP base voters.

Instead of lining up behind Corker and Flake, the party's leaders on Capitol Hill closed ranks, desperate to preserve hopes of the tax reform that Trump and establishment lawmakers badly need, despite their mutual antipathy.

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"The party is currently being redefined in Donald Trump's image with his priorities and his tone and way of doing things," said Matt Latimer, a former aide to President George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"The traditional Republican Party has to decide if they are going to acquiesce to that or rebel against it. Right now the majority of the base seems to be in favor of acquiescing. There are very few willing to revolt right now."

The President and his White House all but said good riddance to the two senators, pointing out that their voters had left them behind.

"The reason Flake and Corker dropped out of the Senate race is very simple, they had zero chance of being elected. Now act so hurt & wounded!" Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders pointed out Tuesday the levels of support for the two senators back home versus their backing of Trump in their respective states.

'Just a group of three'

Flake and Corker, whose critiques followed denunciations -- none by name -- of Trump by Sen. John McCain and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama last week, are saying publicly what many lawmakers think privately.

But few others are ready to break cover in a party where those who oppose the Trump revolution get consumed by it and as polls show that around 80% of Republicans back the President.

"It is just a group of three right now," said Douglas Brinkley, a CNN historian, drawing parallels from the time when Republicans including Barry Goldwater grouped together to tell Richard Nixon his time in the White House was up.

"Can this become a group of seven or 10?"

At this stage, probably not.

McConnell, the Senate Republican leader had already made his choice -- by standing with Trump at a White House news conference last week -- despite his summer of fending off humiliating attacks by the President.

"If there's anything that unifies Republicans, it's tax reform. We've been looking for the opportunity to do this literally for years," McConnell told reporters, after Trump met his caucus for lunch, laying out the bargain most GOPers are still prepared to make.

"We now have a President who will sign it, who believes in what we're trying to do. And we're going to concentrate on what our agenda is and not any of these other distractions that you all may be interested in," he added.

Only hours after Flake's dramatic speech, he joined Republicans to pass a measure repealing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's rule meant make it easier for Americans to sue their banks and credit card companies.

House Speaker Paul Ryan also wants to ignore the turmoil.

"All this stuff you see on a daily basis on -- Twitter this and Twitter that? Forget about it," Ryan said Tuesday, working on the premise that the Capitol Hill Republicans and the President can still produce results that will appeal to mid-term election voters next year.

In time, if Trump's approval ratings dip into the teens, or the Russia investigation turns up serious wrongdoing, or if the GOP loses control of Congress in November 2018, the party may cut him loose. But it's still early.

Glee from the Bannon wing

The glee of Trump's supporters also served notice that Flake and Corker are as much victims of a populist purge as likely to change the direction of the GOP.

"Winning: Flake Out," read a flashing headline on Breitbart, the populist news organization run by Trump confidant Steve Bannon, who is building a roster of insurgent candidates to challenge GOP senators in primaries.

Andy Surabian, who runs the pro-Trump Great America Alliance, said Flake's departure would be a defeat for those who oppose the President's "America First" nationalism.

"Today's announcement from Sen. Flake that he would not run for reelection is a monumental win for the entire Trump movement and should serve as another warning shot to the failed Republican establishment that backed Flake and others like them that their time is up," Surabian said.

An aide told CNN's Sara Murray that Trump was in "high spirits" after the tumultuous day in Washington.