Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

It started with Charlottesville. The pardon of Joe Arpaio sped it up.

Until now, most Republicans on the Hill have either backed Trump, or mostly stayed silent about their differences. Now, he's being openly defied.

Several of the best-known names in the Republican Party broke over the pardon, including Sen. John McCain, Jeb Bush and — most surprisingly and consequentially — Speaker Paul Ryan.

  • Republicans have come out against Trump, but they have tended not to be leadership figures. And the critiques have rarely been on matters of policy and decision-making — more on rash tweets.
  • Doug Andres, a Ryan spokesman, said in a statement on Arpaio: "The speaker does not agree with this decision. Law enforcement officials have a special responsibility to respect the rights of everyone in the United States. We should not allow anyone to believe that responsibility is diminished by this pardon."
  • McCain, who represents Arpaio, tweeted: "@POTUS's pardon of Joe Arpaio, who illegally profiled Latinos, undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law."

Even in the early days of his presidency, when his leverage was at its peak, Trump never had more than a handful of loyalists on Capitol Hill, Axios' Jonathan Swan points out:

  • Most Republicans kept quiet about their distaste for him, either out of fear that he'd go on a Twitter rampage against them, or that by attacking him they'd undermine a legislative agenda many have been waiting eight years to enact.
  • After the President has spent weeks seemingly divorcing himself from the GOP — openly blaming Mitch McConnell for healthcare's failure and pre-blaming McConnell and Ryan for debt-ceiling headaches — many feel liberated to speak their minds.

All that will hamper Trump's ability to help muscle tax reform through Congress. But the endgame is Special Counsel Bob Mueller:

  • Trump's attacks on McConnell are self-defeating for a lot of reasons. But if Mueller ever makes an impeachment referral (like the Watergate special counsel did), Trump needs McConnell more than anyone in the world.
  • Especially if it's 2019 and there's a Democratic House that could impeach through simple majority vote.

While praised by the establishment, Ryan could pay a grassroots price for the brushback on Arpaio:

  • A Republican lobbyist told me: "The base is gonna eat Ryan for breakfast."
  • Steve Bannon, already deeply engaged at Breitbart News, spent the past week in round-the-clock meetings with leaders of the conservative movement on how to pressure Ryan and McConnell to be more supportive of the president's agenda.
  • Breitbart has been gearing up to campaign to remove Ryan from the speakership. Bannon is activating.

Why it matters: The president is isolating himself on Trump Island, in the comfy warmth of his base. But if the island is bombed by Mueller, the base won't be able to save him. The president will need Congress, which'll be in no mood to rescue its tormentor.

Subscribe to Axios AM/PM for a daily rundown of what's new and why it matters, directly from Mike Allen.
Please enter a valid email.
Please enter a valid email.
Server error. Please try a different email.
Subscribed! Look for Axios AM and PM in your inbox tomorrow or read the latest Axios AM now.

Go deeper

Amy Coney Barrett's immediate impact

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

In her first week on the job, Amy Coney Barrett may be deciding which votes to count in the presidential election. By her third week, she’ll be deciding the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

Where it stands: The Senate votes on Barrett’s nomination tomorrow. If she’s confirmed, Chief Justice John Roberts is expected to swear her in at the Supreme Court within hours, an administration official tells Axios.

Texas Democrats beg Biden to spend now

Photo: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The Biden campaign is rebuffing persistent pleas from Texas Democrats to spend at least $10 million in the Lone Star state, several people familiar with the talks tell Axios.

Why it matters: If Texas — which has 38 electoral votes and is steadily getting more blue, but hasn't backed a Democrat for president since 1976 — flipped to the Biden column, it would be game over. But the RealClearPolitics polling average stubbornly hovers at +2.6 for Trump — and Team Biden appears more focused on closer targets.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Election night in Trumpworld

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Chris Carlson-Pool/Getty Images

A luxe election-night watch party at the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue is being planned for President Trump's donors, friends and advisers — but Trump's hand in it is minimal because he's "very superstitious" — people familiar with the plans tell Axios.

The big picture: This "mecca for all things MAGA," as one adviser described it, is one of three hubs where they say Trumpworld will watch returns. The others are the war room at campaign HQ in Rosslyn, Virginia, and the White House residence, where Trump and the first lady will gather close family and advisers before heading to the hotel later that night, the sources said.