A few days ago, in a post about the right-wing buzzsaw Liz Cheney's reelection campaign is walking into, we noted that, as Caucus Chair, she had called a 3-day policy-oriented meeting for congressional Republicans in Orlando that began yesterday. Politico's Melanie Zanona is reporting on the Trumpless event, noting that Republicans feel confident that they're going to win back control of the House next year by hammering on perceived Democratic weak points: immigration, policing and taxes.
"But Republicans," wrote Zanona, "also know the next 18 months are littered with political tripwires, from internal divisions over the former president trying to influence them from Mar-a-Lago to the fringe elements in their ranks that threaten to swamp their agenda. Democrats are trying to fan those flames across the aisle by yoking the entire GOP to QAnon and, at every turn, elevating some of the conference's most divisive personalities, such as freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Q-GA). House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has adopted a big tent approach to keep his troops united, is eager to paper over those problems in his quest to win back the House-- and with it, the speaker’s gavel. So for the next three days in the Sunshine State, GOP leaders are determined to keep the spotlight on their policy plans and away from the party's most extreme names, in effect previewing the strategy that they think can clinch them the majority next fall."
Nevertheless, on Saturday, Greene headlined a rally for conspiracy nuts and neo-fascists and carried on about rigged elections, underscoring-- to independents and mainstream Americans-- that the GOP is still the party of crackpots, insurrectionists, racists and Anglo-Saxon delusions. Oh, and pandemic denialists. Also onstage at the Gang Greene sideshow were Trumpists and QAnon lunatics running primaries against establishment Republicans... like Cheney.
McCarthy is hoping to use the Orlando meeting to unify his members around a policy agenda that can pave their road back to power. He set up seven breakout sessions for members throughout the retreat that will be focused on issues such as China, health, Big Tech and the economy. Each session will be led by a different lawmaker with expertise in that area, McCarthy said.
“This will be a working conference,” McCarthy told Politico. “We’ve got seven different task forces that we’re gonna name for members to be working on.”
...The lineup of retreat speakers includes Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee; Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s former press secretary and a GOP candidate for governor of Arkansas; and Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary for President George W. Bush.
One Florida resident won’t be showing up: Trump.
“I didn’t invite him,” Cheney told reporters in Washington, prompting a round of laughs. Cheney was one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. She's also lambasted Trump in multiple public comments since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Her quip, while lighthearted, masks a more serious conundrum facing Republicans: what role, if any, the former president should play in the GOP. The party's own leaders are split on the topic.
Cheney has doubled down on her criticism and noted that Republicans lost the House, Senate and White House on his watch. Across the Capitol, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has taken his own steps to distance his members from the former commander-in-chief, even as Trump lobs insults.
But McCarthy has trekked to Mar-a-Lago in an effort to stay in Trump’s good graces and wants to tap into the former president’s popularity with working-class voters. The Californian sees Trump as a future fundraising goldmine for the GOP.
As the retreat began on Sunday, McCarthy got reminder of Trump's continued strain on party unity. Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger-- one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack-- responded in a one-word tweet to McCarthy's avoidance of a question about his mid-riot conversation with Trump.
"Unacceptable," Kinzinger wrote about his own leader.
No matter their spot on the party's ideological spectrum, Republicans agree that both the pro- and anti-Trump camps will need to put their differences aside in order to win back the House majority.
“The worst thing that we could do, with respect to unity, is for those who might not have supported President Trump [to] throw the baby out with the bathwater … even if they don't care for his style and personality,” said Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX).
But, he added, “we have to learn from his mistakes, too. He’s not perfect. So: learning the lessons, both good and bad.”