In theory, the Republicans should be able to clean up in next year's midterms. The first congressional elections after a new president's election is almost always-- almost-- bad news for that president's party. If Biden and the congressional Democrats deliver for voters, it doesn't have to be like that. But, the chances of them delivering anything really big and motivating [see video above] are, alas, slim to none. There's no Medicare for All coming. Biden already wormed out of making good on his $2,000 check promise and turned it into a chintzy argument for a one-time $1,400 check. So, is the game over? Maybe but maybe not. As horrible as the Democrats are, there's one thing they can often count on: the Republicans are worse and that sometimes voters grok that difference and figure out the lesser evil and vote that way.
On Sunday, writing for National Review, Josh Kraushaar predicted that Trump's coup attempt will cost the GOP its natural advantage in 2022. He wrote that "Republican candidates running for office next year [will] calculate how to survive primaries dominated by Trumpists while maintaining enough credibility with independent voters to win general elections. In the run-up to the November election, Trump maintained a job-approval rating in the mid-40s, which helped Republicans win hotly contested House and Senate seats. The post-election calculation among ambitious, Trump-skeptical GOP politicians was to keep some distance from Trump, while dwelling on the Democratic Party’s extremes. Since the Capitol riots, Trump’s approval rating has dipped into the mid-30s, as even his near-universal support among Republicans is beginning to slip. Relying on a typical midterm backlash against the party in power isn’t enough to win back control of Congress. It certainly wasn’t enough in Georgia, where the two runoffs that gave Democrats the Senate majority occurred the day before the Trump-fomented mob stormed the Capitol."
Kraushaar facetiously wished the GOP "luck convincing swing voters that Democratic progressivism is a bigger threat to the country than an insurrection against our own government-- a domestic terror threat that has forced federal law enforcement to call thousands of troops to the Capitol and close off almost all of downtown D.C. this week, and could last well beyond Biden’s inauguration. Will the Republican focus on law and order have the same resonance after many of their lawmakers voted against certifying election results, fueling a riot against the Congress? Will the effective attacks on Democrats over 'defunding the police' work when a police officer was murdered by a mob of Trump supporters? As one senior GOP operative put it: “We’re still clearing the debris from Fort Sumter.”
In the pre-Jan. 6 political environment, Republicans looked like they had a fighting chance to win back Senate and House majorities in two years. In the current environment, they will need to fight back against MAGA-aligned candidates who could cost them seats in must-win races.
Republicans face immediate challenges nominating mainstream Republicans for Senate races in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, battleground states where GOP senators are retiring. Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, is considering running in North Carolina against a more-traditional GOP candidate, former Rep. Mark Walker. If Costello runs in Pennsylvania, he could face strong opposition from reliable Trump loyalists, like Reps. Mike Kelly or Scott Perry, conservatives more in sync with the party base.
In Georgia and Arizona, the two most promising pickup opportunities for Senate Republicans, the party’s far-right wing is ascendant. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, the party’s strongest possible Senate recruit, was just censured by his own state party simply for certifying his state’s election results. Meanwhile, Trump is egging on Republicans to mount a primary challenge to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, pushing the party further to the right as it prepares for another round of critical elections next year. Given the mood of the party base, it’s harder to see a more-traditional Republican emerging as the challenger against Sen.-elect Raphael Warnock in 2022.
And there are looming potential primary threats to establishment Republicans who accepted the election results, like Sens. John Thune of South Dakota, Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Rob Portman of Ohio. All of these states are solidly Republican, but could become competitive if a MAGA-aligned candidate unseats a sitting senator in a primary.
“Remember: The last time a first-term midterm worked out for a party in power was immediately after a major terrorist attack,” the GOP operative said. “If Democrats play their hand right and try to unify the country, while our candidates still talk about Trump, you can see how they defy the odds—maybe even pick up a [Senate] seat. There’s no guarantee for this cycle for Republicans, no matter how good things look on paper.”
This morning, The Atlantic published a piece by the always insightful McKay Coppins, The Coming Republican Amnesia, contending that the GOP establishment will try to recover from the Trump era by pretending it never happened. He wrote that as Trump "lurches through the disastrous final days of his presidency, Republicans are just beginning to survey the wreckage of his reign. Their party has been gutted, their leader is reviled, and after four years of excusing every presidential affront to “conservative values,” their credibility is shot. How will the GOP recover from the complicity and corruption of the Trump era? To many Republicans, the answer is simple: Pretend it never happened. 'We’re about to see a whole political party do a large-scale version of New phone, who dis?' says Sarah Isgur, a former top spokesperson for the Trump Justice Department. 'It will be like that boyfriend you should never have dated-- the mistake that shall not be mentioned.' The plan might seem implausible, but I’ve heard it floated repeatedly in recent days by Republican strategists who are counting down the minutes of the Trump presidency. The hardcore MAGA crowd will stay loyal, of course, and those few who have consistently opposed Trump will escape with their reputations intact. But for the majority of GOP officials, apparatchiks, and commentators who sacrificed their dignity at the altar of Trump, a collective case of amnesia seems destined to set in the moment he leaves office."
But is it even possible to persuade independents and swing voters that Republicans who voted against accepting the results of the election are trustworthy, while persuading MAGA-ite dead-enders that Republicans who weren't aiding and abetting the rioters and insurrectionists the way Mo Brooks (R-AL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Q-GA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Gym Jordan (R-OH), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Mad Cawthorn (Nazi-NC), Lauren Boebert (Q-CO) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) in the House and Tex Cruz (R-TX), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) in the Senate did, are worth voting for? Remember this crowd erected a gallows and were looking for Mike Pence so they could hang him!
Coppins wrote that "People who spent years coddling the president will recast themselves as voices of conscience, or whitewash their relationship with Trump altogether. Policy makers who abandoned their dedication to 'fiscal responsibility' and 'limited government' will rediscover a passion for these timeless conservative principles. Some may dress up their revisionism in the rhetoric of 'healing' and 'moving forward,' but the strategy will be clear-- to escape accountability by taking advantage of America’s notoriously short political memory. When I asked Doug Heye, a longtime GOP strategist, how his party will remember the Trump years, he responded with a litany of episodes to memory-hole. 'Republicans will want to forget the constant chaos, the lies, the double-dealing, the hiring of family, and the escalating rhetoric that incited hate for four years [and] directly led to what happened at the Capitol,' he told me. 'Basically, any of those things that we never would have let an Obama or Clinton get away with, but constantly justified to ourselves in the name of judges.' But while some Republicans might be eager to 'walk away from Trump,' Heye added, 'many will continue talking about the things in the administration they supported'-- from tax cuts and deregulation to flooding the judiciary with conservatives. Indeed, the narrative now forming in some GOP circles presents Trump as a secondary figure who presided over an array of important accomplishments thanks to the wisdom and guidance of the Republicans in his orbit. In these accounts, Trump’s race-baiting, corruption, and cruel immigration policies-- not to mention his attempts to overturn an election-- are treated as minor subplots, rather than defining features."
We'll see if they can pull any of that off-- especially as investigations continue to prove that it wasn't just militia nuts and crackpot Q-Anon fanatics who pillaged the Capitol on January 6, but dyed-in-the-wool Republicans. Over the weekend, the Associated Press looked through records that prove it was Trump operatives who ignited the riots. Richard Lardner and Michelle Smith reported that members of "Trump’s failed presidential campaign played key roles in orchestrating the Washington rally that spawned a deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol, according to an Associated Press review of records, undercutting claims the event was the brainchild of the president’s grassroots supporters. A pro-Trump nonprofit group called Women for America First hosted the 'Save America Rally' on Jan. 6 at the Ellipse, an oval-shaped, federally owned patch of land near the White House. But an attachment to the National Park Service public gathering permit granted to the group lists more than half a dozen people in staff positions for the event who just weeks earlier had been paid thousands of dollars by Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. Other staff scheduled to be 'on site' during the demonstration have close ties to the White House... The AP’s review found at least three of the Trump campaign aides named on the permit rushed to obscure their connections to the demonstration. They deactivated or locked down their social media profiles and removed tweets that referenced the rally. Three blocked a reporter who asked questions."
The AP reviewed social media posts, voter registrations, court files and other public records for more than 120 people either facing criminal charges related to the Jan. 6 unrest or who, going maskless during the pandemic, were later identified through photographs and videos taken during the melee.
The review found the crowd was overwhelmingly made up of longtime Trump supporters, including Republican Party officials, GOP political donors, far-right militants, white supremacists, off-duty police, members of the military and adherents of the QAnon myth that the government is secretly controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophile cannibals.
Videos posted on social media in the days following the Capitol attack shows that thousands of people stormed the Capitol. A Capitol Police officer died after he was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher as rioters descended on the building and many other officers were injured. A woman from California was shot to death by Capitol Police and three other people died after medical emergencies during the chaos.
Trump’s incendiary remarks at the Jan. 6 rally culminated a two-day series of events in Washington, organized by a coalition of the president’s supporters who echoed his baseless accusations that the election had been stolen from him. A website, MarchtoSaveAmerica.com, sprung up to promote the pro-Trump events and alerted followers, “At 1 PM, we protest at US Capitol.” The website has been deactivated.
Another website, TrumpMarch.com shows a fist-raised Trump pictured on the front of a red, white and blue tour bus emblazoned with the words, “Powered by Women for America First.” The logo for the bedding company “My Pillow” is also prominent. Mike Lindell, the CEO of My Pillow, is an ardent Trump supporter who’s falsely claimed Trump didn’t lose the election to Biden and will serve another four-year term as president.
“To demand transparency & protect election integrity,” the web page reads. Details of the “DC PROTEST” will be coming soon, it adds, and also lists a series of bus stops between Dec. 27 and Jan. 6 where Trump backers can “Join the caravan or show your support.”
Kimberly Fletcher, the Moms for America president, said she wasn’t aware the Trump campaign had a role in the rally at the Ellipse until around New Year’s Day. While she didn’t work directly with the campaign, Fletcher did notice a shift in who was involved in the rally and who would be speaking.
“When I got there and I saw the size of the stage and everything, I’m like, ‘Wow, we couldn’t possibly have afforded that,’” she said. “It was a big stage. It was a very professional stage. I don’t know who was in the background or who put it together or anything.”
In addition to the large stage, the rally on the Ellipse featured a sophisticated sound system and at least three Jumbotron-style screens projecting the president’s image to the crowd. Videos posted online show Trump and his family in a nearby private tent watching the rally on several monitors as music blared in the background.
As Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin reported yesterday for the NY Times, one thing is certain: the GOP is headed for a bitter internal showdown. In short: GOP leadership would like to blunt Trump’s influence over the party. "Trump and his allies want to punish those who have crossed him. A series of clashes looms.. The bitter infighting underscores the deep divisions Mr. Trump has created in the GOP and all but ensures that the next campaign will represent a pivotal test of the party’s direction, with a series of clashes looming in the months ahead." Probably not good news for people trying to concentrate on the midterms.
Burns and Martin noted that "The friction is already escalating in several key swing states in the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s incitement of the mob that attacked the Capitol last week. They include Arizona, where Trump-aligned activists are seeking to censure the Republican governor they deem insufficiently loyal to the president, and Georgia, where a hard-right faction wants to defeat the current governor in a primary election. In Washington, Republicans are particularly concerned about a handful of extreme-right House members who could run for Senate in swing states, potentially tarnishing the party in some of the most politically important areas of the country. Mr. McConnell’s political lieutenants envision a large-scale campaign to block such candidates from winning primaries in crucial states. But Mr. Trump’s political cohort appears no less determined, and his allies in the states have been laying the groundwork to take on Republican officials who voted to impeach Mr. Trump-- or who merely acknowledged the plain reality that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had won the presidential race. Republicans on both sides of the conflict are acknowledging openly that they are headed for a showdown."
In next year's GOP primaries, Trump is determined to defeat John Thune in South Dakota and Liz Cheney in Wyoming. Both states are so deeply red that it isn't likely that even a civil-war-wrecked GOP will lose to a Democrat no matter who wins. But that is certainly not the case in Senate races in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Alaska, North Carolina, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, Arizona-- and maybe not even in Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, Indiana, Kansas. Dozens of House seats in Texas, California, Iowa, Michigan, New York, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina and Minnesota could also be at stake.