It’s on, and by “it” I mean the Republican civil war. After the big gains they had confidently predicted failed to materialize—after, for that matter, the midterm gains you’d usually expect for the party out of the White House failed to materialize—Republicans are energetically finger-pointing and infighting. And Donald Trump’s big announcement is still on the horizon.
Let’s see what we’ve got. A significant number of congressional Republicans and an even more significant number of right-wing movement and organization leaders called for congressional leadership elections to be delayed, a call ignored by both House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Rep. Andy Biggs announced a challenge to McCarthy as part of a larger Freedom Caucus power play. Then Sen. Rick Scott announced his own challenge to McConnell, after having wavered on whether to go ahead with it.
Even Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is concerned Republican infighting could lead to problems for McCarthy in his run for speaker of the House, coming out loud and proud with her support for McCarthy because “Politics is a blood sport. We have to do anything we can to stop our enemy. And the enemy is the Democrat Party.”
Allies of McConnell are trading vicious quotes with allies of Scott, the National Republican Senatorial Committee chair. Scott’s announcement that he would challenge McConnell came after he first seemed to back off of his plans to do so in the wake of the failure he presided over as NRSC head, but apparently he decided that there was enough anti-McConnell energy to make it worth his while.
A lot of that energy is coming from Arizona, where failed senatorial candidate Blake Masters, a man who definitely does not think he could have done anything wrong, went looking for who to blame for his loss, landing on McConnell. “The people who control the purse strings, Senate Leadership Fund, Mitch McConnell—McConnell decided to spend millions of dollars attacking a fellow Republican in Alaska instead of helping me defeat Sen. Mark Kelly,” Masters said following his loss. (Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski did get some help in Alaska against another Republican, but Masters also got plenty of outside support. It’s not like the man was left to fend for himself.)
Donald Trump has the same take as Masters, saying “It’s Mitch McConnell’s fault. Spending money to defeat great Republican candidates instead of backing Blake Masters and others was a big mistake.” White supremacist ghoul Stephen Miller likewise blamed McConnell. Sen. Ted Cruz piled on, saying “Abandoning Blake Masters was indefensible,” and pinning the Senate Leadership Fund’s decision to triage the Arizona Senate race on Masters having said he wouldn’t support McConnell for majority leader.
Then there’s the Trump part of the Republican infighting. He’s taken significant criticism for Republican underperformance on Election Day, and his Tuesday night announcement isn’t likely to make him a less controversial figure—at least not right away. If he solidifies his hold over the Republican base, the party establishment is unlikely to suddenly find a spine where he’s concerned. The old saying is that Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line. That was generally true … until the Republican base fell in love with Donald Trump.
Right now, the Republican establishment is frantically firing warning shots over Trump’s bow. Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal ran an editorial very critical of Trump, saying “his character flaws—narcissism, lack of self-control, abusive treatment of advisers, his puerile vendettas—interfered with [his policy] success.” That’s not all:
A lot of Republicans with big platforms are trying to boost Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Seeing a potential rival, Trump has been attacking DeSantis, labeling him “Ron DeSanctimonious,” while DeSantis responded passive aggressively, saying, “One of the things I’ve learned in this job is when you’re leading, when you’re getting things done, you take incoming fire, that’s just the nature of it.”
In a line really guaranteed to enrage Trump, DeSantis said, “And, you know, at the end of the day, I would just tell people to go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night.” So look for Trump to tear into DeSantis at his announcement, and how that goes will be a pivotal development in the 2024 Republican primary.
The infighting isn’t all at the federal level, though. In Michigan, failed gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon is attacking state Republican Party leadership and suggesting she might run to lead the state party. See, it’s everyone else’s fault she lost big, so she’s the person to fix things.
“We’re not a cult,” Sen. Bill Cassidy said over the weekend. Can someone get the man a “My ‘We’re not a cult’ shirt has people asking a lot of questions answered by my shirt” shirt?
Cassidy tried to explain. “We’re not like, ‘Okay, there’s one person who leads our party,'” Cassidy said. “We are not going to have one person anointed unless she or he happens to be a sitting president. We should have a set of principles and ideas and legislative accomplishments that is our lodestar, if you will. That’s where we need to go.” Nice idea there, except that we can all see it’s totally false right now. Donald Trump has had the party in his grip for six years—the Republican National Committee chair gave up one of her names for him, for heaven’s sake!—and now the fighting is over whether he, or anyone else, can continue to hold onto that kind of, yes, cultlike power.
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