The party divided will not stand – DollarJob

The party divided will not stand

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A basic rule of politics and sports says that the team that is more internally divided loses more than it wins. And yet, if you believe the current polls, it’s Donald Trump in the lead in the 2024 presidential race, despite being the head of a party that is clearly more divided. 

Of course, as has been observed numerous times, this isn’t proving to be any normal year in American politics. The Democratic Party, in contrast to the GOP, is relatively united. Yes, there’s a debate about Israel that is contentious, but the main division inside the Democratic Party is not about policy right now. It’s about President Joe Biden’s ability to run and whether he’s truly the strongest candidate to face Trump. 

But this debate about Biden isn’t technically a political divide. This isn’t the left versus the centrists, with age being used as a proxy over something deeper. This is a debate over tactics, not something that’s core to the definition of “progressive” or “Democrat.”

What’s happening inside the GOP is a debate over the definition of “conservative” and “Republican.” It’s a debate about how to implement a policy that supports the longtime mantra “peace through strength.” It’s a debate about the role of government, with a sharp divide over whether government should be used to implement or influence culture. For many longtime Republicans, what Trump and his wing of the GOP offer is something they don’t recognize as “Republican” or “conservative.” 

Given the current divides roiling the two parties, it’s easier to see unenthusiastic high-profile Democrats getting behind Biden since they don’t have a beef with him on policy than it is seeing Trump getting his disloyalists back on board. Take Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. I get why he’s decided to hold off officially endorsing Biden over Trump now. But who’s he going to support — the person he voted to impeach twice, or the guy he’s ideologically closer to on just about every major noncultural issue out there? Manchin is likely waiting to endorse when he thinks it could have some juice — namely after Labor Day. 

Then, on the other hand, there’s former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, both of whom also voted to impeach (or convict) Trump at least once. While their concerns were character-driven at first, there are truly deep policy disagreements with Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin and foreign policy in general at the top of the list. Can you imagine either one of them ever “holding their nose” to support Trump? 

And the GOP divides are far more personal than the divides inside the Democratic tent — at least right now. What inspired this column was this list I was putting together about all the public feuds burning inside the GOP. The list is overwhelming once you realize nothing even close exists on the Democratic side when it comes to their divides.

Ideological, identity and personal divides all also exist among Democrats, and at some point, they could get more pronounced and become more public. But right now, they pale in comparison to the Trump-inspired drama that is roiling the GOP from Capitol Hill to many battleground states. Here’s just a sampling.

House Republicans: They are on their second speaker in less than a year, and if you told me a third speaker would serve before November, I wouldn’t be shocked. The House majority believes they wouldn’t be there without Trump voters, and the importance of the Trump base to the average elected House Republican is huge. Of the 220 Republicans in the House, just 17 reside in Biden districts (it was 18 before former Rep. George Santos was expelled and Democrats won the New York special election to replace him). So while the Republicans can’t win a majority without swing voters, about 200 House Republicans can get to Congress without swing voters. And that’s made a big chunk of these folks believe they should be governing for the benefit more of the base than of swing voters.

The most tribal part of the GOP coalition is the Trump-supporting wing of the House GOP conference. Those members do not see any benefit to compromise, and some, perhaps, are unsure how a basic democratic republic should work. Or maybe they do know how it works and they don’t like it and would prefer an illiberal “democracy” that allows them to get their way all the time, despite being in an obvious minority position in this country. 

Senate Republicans: For much of Trump’s White House tenure, the Senate GOP was the closest thing the party had to an internal “resistance” to the Trump movement. But those days appear to be going away as the Trump wing of the Senate conference continues to grow. And the GOP revolt on the border-national security bill appeared to cement a doomed future for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and his wing of the GOP in the chamber.

The only reason McConnell is still leader of the Senate Republicans is that they don’t have the same hair-trigger method the House GOP has to force a leadership vote or some form of a no-confidence vote. But McConnell probably couldn’t win another leadership vote next year, as just about any new GOP senator who comes in will likely be someone from the Trump wing, not the McConnell wing. While McConnell has preferred candidates in some key Senate primaries in places like Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia and Utah, it’s hard to see how his preferred candidates win without some bending of the knee to Trump or Trumpism, making support for McConnell in 2025 unlikely, unless Trump loses badly in November. And if Trump wins, McConnell may not even finish his term.

The presidential primary: Don’t mistake a “divide” for the phrase “evenly divided.” The GOP is not evenly divided, but there is a divide. And the presidential primary is exposing the third of the GOP that isn’t comfortable with Trump either individually or on policy — specifically, national security.

You can look at Nikki Haley’s mid-30s performances and Republican polling results and say she’s too weak to lead the GOP (true), but keep in mind she’s getting these mid-30s results despite the public threats from Mar-a-Lago and the consolidation of much of the party establishment behind Trump. To vote for Haley now, in the face of all this, is picking a side in the larger fight about the direction of the GOP.

While most Haley supporters are likely to support Trump in a binary-choice election in November, just committing an anti-Trump act in the primary opens the door to continue voting anti-Trump in the general, either via choosing a third party or Biden. Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters go out of their way to publicly shame or verbally abuse any Republican these days who publicly says they aren’t supporting Trump. It’s not a message of “We’re all on the same team come November.” Trump attacks folks who vote in GOP primaries but not for him; that’s no way to build a party. 

Michigan: The state GOP has two different people claiming the chairmanship… It’s so bad that there’s talk of two competing state conventions next month, as part of the delegate process orchestrated by the Trump folks, which also includes caucuses. While the Feb. 27 primary will decide just under a third of the available delegates from Michigan, a caucus held on March 2 will decide who wins the remaining two-thirds-plus of delegates.

This divide on who runs the Michigan GOP comes after a run that has seen the party lose the governorship, control of the state Legislature and a dramatic reshaping of reproductive health law — and that’s just what’s happened since 2018. 

Arizona: The leading Senate candidate — Kari Lake — decided to secretly record the now-former state GOP chair. Forget the substance and realize what that says about the depth of the paranoia inside the GOP.

Now, what was Lake’s motivation? Obviously, she knew many folks in the party, including Trump supporters, were skeptical she was the best candidate for the Senate. Clearly, she thought there would be something offered to her that she could use to embarrass the leadership, and she was right. Her instincts were spot on, even if the execution of this recording strategy screams of paranoia.

Who in the GOP would ever trust any private conversation they had with Lake going forward? I know there are a lot of paranoiacs in politics these days, and given my experience with the Trump operation for years — Michael Cohen publicly admitted how often they recorded conversations — I assume many of my interactions as a reporter are being secretly recorded, in the hope that the recorder can find something to embarrass the media.

Arizona Republicans have lost a lot of close elections since Trump became the face of the party. Lake may be his most successful protégée, but she can’t become the next Trump without winning one race first, and a divided and paranoid relationship with the state GOP is no way to do that. 

Florida: The divide in Florida is more personal than ideological. The simple act of challenging Trump for the Republican presidential nomination has put Gov. Ron DeSantis and anyone who helped him in Trump’s crosshairs. Toss in the strong-arm tactics DeSantis used at the start of his presidential campaign and it’s a recipe for a good old-fashioned Hatfields-vs.-McCoys-type feud in the state party. Trump has had operational control of the state GOP for some time, though his choice for party chair has found himself in a legally compromising position. Needless to say, the Florida Republicans are very publicly divided, and with people like Rep. Matt Gaetz representing the Trump wing in the state (and having his eyes on the governorship), expect more division, not less, for the next few years.  

Texas: Late last year, the Republican-controlled state House impeached the Republican state attorney general — and the Republican-controlled state Senate narrowly acquitted him. The AG, Ken Paxton, hid behind Trump-style legal conspiracy theories to survive his impeachment politically. Trump took the bait and made Paxton’s cause his own.

But Paxton still has his share of political enemies, including Sen. John Cornyn. The state’s senior U.S. senator decided to let folks on social media know exactly what he thought of Paxton after the attorney general publicly critiqued him for supporting the compromise national security-border bill. 

Iowa: Donald Trump Jr. has already floated the possibility of supporting a primary challenge to Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who isn’t up until 2026. Her sin? Willingness to support the compromise bill funding border security and defense spending on behalf of Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. The divide in Iowa is likely to become more acute given what we witnessed during the caucuses, when just about the entire Iowa GOP and conservative establishment lined up behind DeSantis to no avail.

Plenty of Trump supporters noticed and plan to use that in their own primary challenges going forward. If Trump wins the presidency in November, I expect an intraparty GOP bloodbath in Iowa for the 2026 election cycle.

Oklahoma: The state party tried to censure Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., for helping to craft the compromise border-national security legislation. There was apparently a technicality that made it null and void. But while Lankford has technically not been censured, the message was sent nonetheless. In theory, Lankford will never have to share a ballot with Trump again, since he’s not up until 2028.

And there are plenty of other divides we could cover in more depth. The GOP state Assembly speaker in Wisconsin, Robin Vos, has never been Trumpy enough for the MAGA crowd in the state. He’ll try to appease but he never gives them everything they want and that’s made him a target, whether via the primary he barely won in 2022, via internal challenge for his leadership post, or via recall. Arguably, a divided Kentucky GOP is one of the reasons the state’s incumbent Democrat won re-election in 2023, and the divided Kansas GOP is why there’s a Democratic governor in her second term. And look at how Trump is still feuding with GOP Gov. Brian Kemp in Georgia, which clearly cost the party a Senate seat (maybe two) in recent years.

Right now, much of the mainstream dispassionate media and the progressive media are worked up over Biden’s weaknesses, mainly his age and fitness. And there’s a reason there’s so much concern because on paper, the GOP shouldn’t be as competitive as it looks right now.

But the simple fact is, the GOP isn’t just a coin flip away from the presidency and control of the House, it’s also the favorite for control of the Senate. But these are all going to be very close elections, and party divisions matter the most at the margins. While Biden is not the strongest nominee the Democrats could present, Trump is far weaker by comparison, simply because he has more folks in his party who don’t just question whether he’s the strongest candidate the GOP could nominate (he clearly isn’t), but disagree with him fundamentally on his approach to everything from foreign policy to business to culture. 

I’d posit the divides in the Democratic Party and for Biden specifically are just not as deep. Perhaps over time, the divide between the centrists and the progressives will be as nasty as Trump has made the divide between himself and anyone in the GOP who doesn’t bend their knee. But we are a few years away from that kind of acrimony on the left. 

Clearly, the Trump base is more enthused for Trump than the Biden base is for Biden. But if Trump comes up short again and the GOP comes up short again in either the House or Senate or both, it’s not going to be hard to pinpoint what went wrong: The GOP is likely too divided to win, and until Republicans can agree on an ideology that unifies and on a character that unifies, it’s going be a similar story to what they experienced in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022 and 2023. 

From the bad timing files

If you needed any more evidence of how personal the MAGA crowd can makes things inside the GOP, then look how fast Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., went from quiet anti-Trump conservative to retiring congressman.

He thought the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was a waste of time and didn’t rise to the constitutional definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” That simple act of disagreement got him a primary foe in hours. Two days later, he was announcing he was officially out. Of course, the House leadership knew all along they didn’t have Gallagher’s vote, but when they held the first failed impeachment vote, they didn’t know they were short, and when the impeachment failed, it was Gallagher’s vote that seemed “new” since it hadn’t been public.

Imagine if the House Republicans could count and they never allowed for Gallagher’s Mayorkas vote to look decisive? Would Gallagher had gotten blowback from the MAGA crowd and drawn a primary foe? Probably not, and he’d perhaps be a heavy favorite for another term from his Green Bay-area district. Of course, at some point, Gallagher was going to draw the ire of the Trump base, because there are literally parts of that base who make a living out of doxxing or exposing any Republican who isn’t sufficiently loyal to Trump.  

When an arsonist complains of the smell of fire …

One more piece of evidence for the “GOP is more divided” files is the growing number of Republican members of Congress choosing retirement over running one more time with Trump — and possibly serving one more term with a President Donald Trump.

In fact, many folks have noted the retirement of a number of House GOP committee chairs as a flashing red warning sign that Republican incumbents are seeing the reality and don’t expect to be in the majority next year. The latest committee chair to call it quits was Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., who oversees the Homeland Security Committee. Just days after overseeing the impeachment of the first Cabinet secretary in about 150 years, Green lamented that Washington was “broken” and that “making a difference here … just feels like a lot of something for nothing.” 

Needless to say, Green may need to take some time and look up the word “irony” — it might help him understand why many who don’t live in his bubble think what he said was absurd. It’s akin to an arsonist setting a fire and then complaining to the fire department about the heat and smell. 

I’ve invited Green on my podcast to explain why he believes his impeachment of a Cabinet secretary over a governing dispute (not something like personal crimes against government) is helping, not hurting, the impression that Congress is broken. The wasted performance votes that the House GOP regularly forces upon its members are why they are somehow more unpopular than any other faction of Washington.

I think Green has plenty of reasonable disagreements with how the Department of Homeland Security works, but I’m not sure how this wasted impeachment vote helps surface those disagreements in a way that creates a governing compromise. Perhaps one way to prevent Washington from breaking is to stop show committee votes?

I look forward to Green explaining himself — unlike a TV interview, this would be a conversation of 30 minutes or more as opposed to five, with plenty of time for context and back-and-forth. Here’s hoping he still believes in trying to speak to people outside his own tribe.

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