Friday, September 21, 2018
Politics

Romano: Criticize Trump or be loyal to GOP? David Jolly says answer is easy

They call, they email, they pursue.

The guy they're looking for has been busy planting palm trees at his new home in Belleair Bluffs, but the TV news producers have another project in mind. They're curious if he'll shovel dirt on Donald Trump.

So, he feels obliged to explain to them that he's not anti-Trump. He sincerely wants the man to succeed, if only for the future of the nation.

And then David Jolly goes on national television and rips the president of the United States.

"What I'm trying to do is speak plainly to the anxiousness American people are feeling today," Jolly said Thursday morning. "If I question the fitness of the president, it is out of a sense of conviction."

And there is nothing equivocal about Jolly's convictions.

That's why Larry King, MSNBC, CNN and others have sought out the former congressman from Pinellas County. He is telegenic and articulate, but plenty of pols fit that description. What sets Jolly apart is that he is a rare Republican willing to criticize the titular head of his party.

Upon the end of Trump's recent trip abroad, Jolly called him "a weak president on the world stage." When a Montana congressional candidate allegedly assaulted a reporter, Jolly declared, "Welcome to Donald Trump's America." On another show, he said it was an "embarrassing time to be a Republican" and, a week earlier, predicted Trump would be the first sitting president in 28 years to face a primary.

And that's just the past month.

Previously, he had called the president a liar, said he had no credibility, described his behavior as risky and suggested Trump didn't have the intellectual curiosity to be in the White House.

So how have Jolly's Republican colleagues responded to his outspokenness?

"I realize I'm taking a lot more arrows in the back than pats on the back," he said. "And that's fine. It's okay for Republicans to disagree with me.

"But I was very critical of a lot of President Obama's policies while I was in Congress. So all I'm asking is that Republicans hold this president accountable to the same standards that we all held President Obama to for eight years. We're not seeing that. And I don't want to be associated with a group-think mentality that is based in that kind of hypocrisy."

What's ironic is that Jolly seems to care more about the Republican brand than those who are criticizing him for being disloyal to the party.

He laughs off any suggestion that he switch to the Democratic Party, saying he believes in center-right policies far more than center-left.

But on issues like campaign finance reforms, marriage equality and climate change, Jolly says the Republican Party needs to get more in line with America's trend lines or risk being left behind.

And this is nothing new for Jolly.

Eleven months before the presidential election of 2016, Jolly said he was not comfortable with anything Trump stood for and called for Republican leaders to repudiate the then-candidate's positions.

This past willingness to speak out against Trump is what made Jolly so attractive to TV news shows when he left Congress in January after losing to Charlie Crist.

Whether it makes Jolly's political future problematic remains to be seen.

His old congressional district was redrawn to be solidly Democratic, so his criticism of Trump may help with independents and dissatisfied liberals, but Jolly can probably forget about getting support from the Republican establishment if he decides to run again next year.

That means his own congressional future may rise or fall depending on the success or failure of Trump's administration.

Either way, he says it's more important for him to be true to his beliefs and stake out ground on what he is certain will be the correct side of history.

"When the Trump experiment is finally over," he said, "hopefully there will still be some of us around to pick up the pieces."

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