Donald Trump

In this Sept. 26, 2017, photo, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, right, listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with members of the House Ways and Means committee in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington.

Evan Vucci

As the Republican deficit hawks molt into deficit doves with the coming budget adding $1.5 trillion in debt, the GOP canaries — President George W. Bush and Sens. John McCain, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake — have chirped their warnings.

It comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s bizarre criticism of one of the nation’s newest Gold Star mothers. It comes as a third U.S. Navy carrier strike force chugs toward to the Korean peninsula.

A week ago Bush43 said, "We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them."

McCain equated Trumpism to “some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Corker, not only sounding alarms about Trump igniting a nuclear World War III with “reckless” tweets, added, “I don’t know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard and is debasing our country.”

Flake announced his retirement on the Senate floor, saying, “We have again forgotten who we are supposed to be. There is a sickness in our system, and it is contagious. How many more disgraceful public feuds with Gold Star families can we witness in silence before we ourselves are disgraced?"

As the chirping fades, the reality is Trump, Steve Bannon and Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayres, have won the opening round of the GOP civil war. They are forcing temperament moderates out.

“There is zero appetite for the ‘Never Trump’ movement in the Republican Party of today,” Andy Surabian, an adviser to Great America Alliance, told the New York Times. “This party is now defined by President Trump and his movement.”

It could be a Pyrrhic victory. If you want Exhibit A in what an intra-party civil war looks like, check out Indiana circa 2012 when Republicans jettisoned U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar for Richard Mourdock. Lugar’s 36-year hold on that Senate seat ended with the election of Democrat Joe Donnelly.

It was totally predictable. In a Howey Politics/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll conducted in March 2012, Lugar had a 50-29 percent lead over Donnelly in a general election head-to-head, whereas Mourdock and Donnelly were tied at 35 percent. While Mourdock won a landslide primary victory over Lugar, he spent the following weeks alienating the Lugar wing of the party. The GOP never united.

Heading into the 2018 mid-terms, the data sets are dismal for Trump and the Republicans. Trump’s approve/disapproves are 36/58 percent in the latest Gallup tracking. Direction of the country? Marist has it 31/63 percent wrong/right track. The congressional job approval stands at 13/80 percent approve/disapprove in Gallup.

Indiana is a fascinating study in Trumpism. He won the 2016 primary here with 53 percent and the support of Bob Knight, Gene Keady and Lou Holtz, but with none of the Republican establishment. They came around when Gov. Mike Pence was added to the ticket in July, and Trump won the state by 19 percent that November. But that is beginning to fade with Mark It Red polling putting Trump’s approve/disapprove at 47/50 percent and Morning Consult at 49.8/44.9 percent, a 17 percent drop-off from its January tracking.

A Ball State poll last week puts it at 41/45 percent.

While Indiana U.S. Senate candidates Luke Messer and Todd Rokita are openly embracing Trump (whose favorability among Hoosier Republicans stood at 87 percent in the Mark It Red survey), U.S. Sen. Todd Young did not discredit Flake’s warnings, telling WNDU-TV on Tuesday, "He said some powerful things. He indicated that character counts. He said that integrity counts in leaders. I happen to agree with him. To this U.S. senator, his message was one that I would I embrace.”

Mike Allen observes in Wednesday’s Axios: “President Trump enjoys public support (despite private gripes) from most of the 49 other Senate Republicans and 239 House Republicans, including every person in elected leadership. Trump got standing ovations from Senate Republicans, with Corker in the room. This flows from his strong, sustained support of GOP voters. The vast majority of Republicans are forever marked as Trump Republicans.”

But you can always find yet another canary who warns of Mourdockian implications, with Republican strategist Alex Conant explaining, "To be successful, Trump needs a united Republican Party. A divided party loses elections."

Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @hwypol. The opinions are the writer's.

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