Commentary: A game of political limbo

By John Krull 

INDIANAPOLIS – A senior member of the Republican caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives from a key swing state says he’s quitting, right in the middle of his term.

John Krull, publisher,

U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, is a mainstream Republican who has expressed frustration with the federal government’s ability to, well, govern. He plans to step down from his seat shortly after the new year begins.

The announcement of Tiberi’s eminent departure follows on the heels of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s pronouncement that the GOP is courting an electoral disaster of epic proportions. Cruz, a conservative fire-eater who represents Texas, says the Republican base is losing patience with the party.

Cruz’s pronouncement comes not long after U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, says he won’t run for re-election. Corker’s decision to quit somehow prompts an epic Twitter spat between him and President Donald Trump – a Republican president – that culminates in Corker calling the Trump administration “an adult day care center.”

Why are all these Republicans – members of a party that now controls all three branches of the federal government – so demoralized?

The conventional wisdom is that it’s because of tumultuous and undisciplined course set by the president.

There doubtless is something to that.

Just the past few days have seen Donald Trump get caught in another senseless and self-defeating lie regarding his predecessors’ contacts with the families of soldiers killed in battle, do yet one more about-face on a healthcare package – he was for it, then he was against it – and engage in a pointless quarrel with U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, a legitimate American hero.

All these Trump spasms, pirouettes and pratfalls would be enough to make any right-thinking conservative uneasy, even jittery, but I think there’s more to their malaise than that.

I think they’re upset because they know that, as bad as things are, they could and likely will get a lot worse.

President Trump’s latest poll numbers peg him dead last among modern presidents at this point in their presidencies – and by a wide margin. At least half the country doesn’t think he’s fit to hold the office. Fewer than four out of 10 Americans approve of the job he’s doing. And more than half believe the president tells the truth only by accident.

Hard as it may be to believe, Congress’s numbers are even worse. Public approval ratings for the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are only marginally better than those for natural disasters.

And here’s the thing.

All this discontent stalks the land in a time of relative prosperity.

The stock market sets new records on an almost daily basis. We are amid what is now the third-longest period of economic expansion in recent U.S. history, a stretch that extends back more than eight years.

If people are this unhappy when things are going well, what are they going to be like when hard times hit?

At some point, this period of growth will end. A correction will occur, because that is the nature of economic growth.

The economy expands, overreaches, then adjusts – and then the cycle starts over again.

The periods of correction and adjustment, though, are painful at the human level. They generally mean job losses, drops in retirement funds and other hardships.

Those hardships will fall disproportionately heavy on many voters who placed their faith in Donald Trump.

That won’t be entirely his fault, even though he has produced seemingly endless supplies of the things markets typically abhor – volatility and uncertainty.

Presidents don’t have as much control over the economy as we or they might wish.

Nonetheless, they get the blame when growth stalls and pain follows, because they’re among the first to take credit when things are booming and folks are smiling.

Already, there are signs the correction is coming. Job growth is slowing down and analysts are warning that the market is “overbought.”

That’s why so many Republicans are so nervous.

They know that, however far they have fallen, they still may not have hit bottom.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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