Trump's GOP Is An Ugly Dysfunctional Mess-- But Will Midterm Voters Bother To Notice?
You may have noticed that one of the more successful Republican governors, New Hampshire conservative Chris Sununu, is at odds with his own party lately. He was heavily recruited to run for the Senate seat help by the weakest Democratic incumbent in the nation, Maggie Hassan, who he has consistently rounded in the polls, but he said he would not; he also said he would consider running for president whether Trump is in the race or not. Them's fight' words. Also the kind of words that get you invited onto the Sunday shows.
Yesterday, on State if the Union, Dana Bash asked him a question that made his head explode: "Many in the GOP want to kick 13 House Republicans who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill off their committees. At the same time, you have Republican Congressman Gosar sharing a video showing him killing a Democratic congresswoman, and only two Republicans wanted to strip him of his committees. What does that say to you about the GOP? Voting for a bipartisan bill is considered worse by many than encouraging violence.
Sununu: "I think politics in its entirety on both sides of the aisle in Washington is screwed up. I mean, it really is. They have got their priorities all wrong. They focus on the wrong things. They don't talk about balancing budgets. They don't talk about fixing health care, immigration reform. Social Security and Medicare are going to be broken in about 10 years. You better get around to fixing that, because I have elderly citizens that are counting on those types of programs. And, instead, we spend all of our time focusing on these nitpicky things. And I think, when a congressman says those things and puts that thing up, of course they have to be censured for that. Of course they have to be held to bear for that. When we talk about kicking people off of committees because they don't like one vote or the other, again, I just think they have their priorities screwed up... Paul Gosar should have been censured and stripped of his committees and that... I think it's OK for Republicans to support anything that is bipartisan... I think it says that we have our priorities wrong."
When Bash followed up with a question about Liz Cheney, Sununu defended her right to be in the GOP and chastised his party for "kind of that social media mob mentality that's built up in this country, where we think it's-- we don't agree with one issue, so we're going to attack and we're going to vilify one person or one individual. We got to get beyond that, because, culturally, it's really, really ruining America. And we got to get back to showing that public service can work, and especially at a localized level."
A couple of days ago, Jonathan Martin and Shane Goldmacher echoed what Democrats operatives are saying with fingers crossed and what Republican operatives are dreading: GOP Is Energized, but ‘Trump Cancel Culture’ Poses a Threat. They were in Phoenix for the Republican Governors Association meeting this, where they found "an unmistakable air of celebration in the conference rooms and cocktail parties," because of the Glenn Youngkin with in Blue Virginia, which, many think, offers the GOP "a road map for next year’s midterm elections." Conspicuously absent-- uninvited: Señor Trumpanzee. Mainstream Republicans love the way he can mobilize poorly educated working class voters... but hate the overt fascism, his chaos and his insistence on unquestionable authority.
Out of earshot of the reporters and donors congregating amid the palm trees and cactuses of the Arizona Biltmore resort, however, a more sober, less triumphant and all-too-familiar conversation was taking place among the governors: What could be done about Donald J. Trump?
In a private meeting of the Republican Governors Association’s executive committee, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland brought up Trump’s campaign of retribution against incumbent Republicans he dislikes-- an effort that appears to be escalating, as the former president pushes former Senator David Perdue of Georgia to challenge Gov. Brian Kemp.
“It’s outrageous, unacceptable and bad for the party,” Hogan said in an interview about the former president’s intervention, which he termed “Trump cancel culture.” And it’s happening, he added, “with House members, governors and senators.”
Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, chairman of the association, assured his fellow governors that the R.G.A. would support Republican incumbents, according to several governors in the room.
One year after his defeat, Trump is not only still looming over the GOP, but also-- along with his imitators-- posing the biggest threat to what is shaping up to be a fruitful year for Republican candidates. With President Biden’s approval ratings mired below 50 percent-- in some surveys, below 40 percent-- and voters in a sour mood, Republicans are well positioned to make gains in Congress and statehouses across the country.
But there is Trump, threatening primary challenges to some House Republicans in key swing districts, endorsing Senate candidates who make party leaders uneasy and recruiting loyalists to take out Republican governors from Idaho to Georgia.
Youngkin’s success in a campaign in which his Democratic opponent relentlessly linked him to Trump has emboldened the former president to further tighten his grip on the party, one whose base remains deeply loyal to him.
Moving beyond the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him this year, Trump is now threatening to unseat lawmakers who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. He taunts Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell as an “old crow” on a near-daily basis, while demanding that McConnell be removed from his leadership post. And, most alarming to the clubby cadre of Republican governors, Trump has already endorsed two challengers against incumbent governors and is threatening to unseat others.
“Saving America starts by saving the G.O.P. from RINOs, sellouts and known losers!” Mr. Trump said last week, using the acronym for “Republicans in name only” [which Trump defines as anyone who disagrees with him about anything, no matter how big or small].
As Trump weighs a 2024 comeback, he is plainly determined to ensure that the party he could return to remains every bit as loyal to him as it was when he held office.
“It’s very foreign to the conduct that we’re used to,” said Haley Barbour, the former Mississippi governor, who has worked with every Republican president and former president since Nixon. Trump’s post-presidential predecessors, he said, “were scrupulous about not getting involved in primaries.”
Representative Tom Emmer, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, accused the news media and Democrats of focusing too much on Trump. Yet it was House Republicans, led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who invited the former president to headline the committee’s signature fall fund-raiser this month.
Of the Republican incumbents Trump is targeting, Emmer said, “You’re talking about people that have run tough races and been very successful.”
Beyond targeting lawmakers he feels have not proved sufficiently faithful, Trump has also normalized aberrant behavior in Republican ranks and fostered a culture of fear among party officials who want to move on from his presidency or at least police their own members. After just two House Republicans voted to censure Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona for posting an animated video that depicted him killing a Democratic lawmaker, for example, Trump endorsed Gosar’s re-election, affirming his status as a Republican in good standing.
It is the former president’s insistence on playing a haphazard kingmaker, however, that is most troubling to Republican officials and strategists. In Pennsylvania, where the party is perhaps most at risk of losing a Senate seat, Trump endorsed Sean Parnell, a military veteran who has been accused by his ex-wife of spousal and child abuse.
More broadly, Trump is complicating McConnell’s recruitment campaign by making clear his contempt for the sort of center-right Republicans who refuse to echo his lies about last year’s election. Two New England governors, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Phil Scott of Vermont, indicated this month that they would not run for the Senate, Hogan appears more intent on pursuing a long-shot presidential campaign, and Ducey continues to insist that he will not challenge first-term Senator Mark Kelly.
...Ducey, who is one of Trump’s most frequent targets for his refusal to overturn Arizona’s vote for Biden, betrayed it-is-what-it-is fatigue with the former president. The governors would “control the controllable,” he said. Attempting to consider Trump’s role, he added, was like “trying to predict what can’t be predicted.”
Most other Republican governors in Phoenix were just as uninterested in discussing Trump, displaying the sort of evasiveness many adopted while he was in office.
...The Republicans most willing to speak frankly about Trump were those open to 2024 presidential runs.
Sununu, the New Hampshire governor and political scion, who this month infuriated Senate Republicans by ridiculing the Senate and declining to challenge Senator Maggie Hassan, said, “I think Brian Kemp is doing a phenomenal job.”
In an earlier political era, that would have been unremarkable praise for a fellow Republican governor. But in a news conference at the meeting here, not one of four Republicans on the dais was willing to offer such a vote of confidence in the Georgia governor.
...The only other Republicans who appear at least willing to break with Trump on a case-by-case basis are McConnell and his top lieutenants. While they have rallied to the former football star Herschel Walker, whom Trump pushed to run for the Senate in Georgia, McConnell’s allies have made clear their support for Ducey and have stayed out of Senate races in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, where Trump has intervened.
“At the end of the day, in most of these races, we’re going to have credible, competitive candidates,” said Steven Law, who runs a McConnell-aligned Republican super PAC. “There may be a few places where we need to be engaged to make sure we put our best foot forward.”
Some Republican Senate strategists are having painful flashbacks to the last big GOP wave, in 2010, when Republicans swept more than 60 seats in the House but several weak Republican candidates lost key Senate contests.
“Republicans running bad candidates doesn’t guarantee Democrats will win,” said J.B. Poersch, president of the Senate Majority PAC, the leading Senate super PAC for Democrats. “But it sure does help.”
For now, public surveys and internal party polling show that support for Democrats is eroding-- the kind of political climate where even less-than-stellar Republican recruits might win.
Perhaps what is giving Democrats the most solace is the calendar.
“The silver lining is it’s November 2021 and not November 2022,” said John Anzalone, a Democratic pollster who worked on Mr. Biden’s campaign last year. He added, “We’re probably at the worst point.”
I hope you read Astead Herndon's NY Times interview with AOC yesterday. Some if it is here. Herndon wrote that she's questioning whether Democratic leaders and the White House understand the scope of the demands coming from the party’s base. when he asked her if the social policy portion of BBB has to pass the Senate she noted that "the stakes are really, really high. The entire reason that the Progressive Caucus gave their votes [for the infrastructure bill] was based on direct promises from the president, as well as direct promises from more conservative Democratic holdouts. And from House leadership as well. So if those promises don’t follow through, it’s going to be very, very difficult for them to get votes on anything moving forward, because the trust that was already so delicate will have been broken... I think that if we pass the Build Back Better Act as the House passed it, that we have a shot to go back to our communities and say we delivered. But that’s not to say that this process has not been demoralizing for a lot of folks, because there were enormous promises made. Not just at the beginning, and not just during the election, but that continued to be made. And this is where I have sounded the alarm, because what really dampens turnout is when Democrats make promises that they don’t keep. With the bipartisan infrastructure plan, there’s all of these headlines going around. And I understand the political importance of making a victory lap. But I think that the worst and most vulnerable position we could be in is to over-promise and under-deliver. So let’s not go around and say, 'We’re going to replace every lead pipe in this country,' because according to the bipartisan infrastructure plan, that is not going to happen. That has not been funded. And if the Build Back Better Act gets cut even further, then that’s definitely not going to happen."
Herndon: Is this frustration a growing sentiment in the Democratic congressional caucus? Or is this just you?
AOC: Frustration is there, and it’s part of why the Progressive Caucus was holding out on passing both of these two pieces of legislation together, because we’re like, listen, we’re not going to take these empty promises anymore.
We went from the American Rescue Plan to six months of watching us just hand the pen to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. If you even look at the [infrastructure bill], it was drafted in the Senate, and they didn’t even allow conferencing with the House version. They said you just need to take this legislation as is-- no compromises, no edits, nothing.
You’ve got to give me something to work with, with my communities. And if you’re not, how can I make the argument that they should turn out again? And this notion that saying “We’re not Trump” is enough-- this is such a deeply demoralizing message.
Democrats have a trifecta and have been unable to pass voting-rights protections. And so people can wring their hands and say “but Manchin” all they want, or “but the filibuster” all they want, but at the end of the day, what people see are the results of their actions and the results of investing their time.
We are up against political nihilism. The idea that nothing we do matters, because as long as I live in the Bronx, the political reality of this country is that no one’s going to fight for me. That is why it’s so important that we take some of these risks for our base.
Herndon: Your party is trying to project political victory at this moment-- and pulling out all the stops to do so. You’re sounding the alarm.
AOC: Before the Virginia elections, it was very clear that our help and our participation was not wanted or asked for, which is fine. I’m not here to tell people how to run their races. But at the same time, to consider the members here that have some of the tightest relationships to our political base as just a uniform liability-- and not something that can be selectively deployed, or consulted, or anything-- I think it’s just sad. I think it was a mistake.
And we saw a big youth turnout collapse. Not a single person asked me to send an email, not even to my own list. And then they turn around and say, “It’s their fault.” When I think it was communicated quite expressly that we were unwelcome to pitch in.
The idea that we just accept a collapse in youth turnout-- and essentially turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy-- in times when races are decided by such narrow margin points: I think it’s ill advised.
She's right; but is the Democratic establishment capable hearing her and understanding what she's saying. Not a chance. Which is why I think she and the other 5 holdouts on the conservative hard infrastructure bill did the right thing... and why I'm disappointed other progressives didn't follow. The Hold the Line thermometer on the left is where you can thank and encourage AOC and the other 5 courageous-- and smart-- fighters for Justice in the House.