Republican leaders are scrambling to unify a deeply fractured GOP, fearing that a failure to do so quickly will ignite an intraparty battle that could sabotage their chances of recapturing the House, Senate and presidency in the coming years.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has urged members of his conference to stop attacking one another following the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol and former President Trump’s impeachment. He met with Trump in Florida on Thursday as part of an effort to ease tensions within the GOP.
Meanwhile, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is also calling for an end to the feuding, warning that emerging fights over ideological and political purity could jeopardize the party’s chances of winning back its majorities in the House and Senate in 2022.
“If we’re fighting each other every day and attacking each other and brandishing party purism, we’re not going to accomplish what we need to to win back the House and take back the Senate, and that’s my priority,” McDaniel, who was elected to a third term as the national GOP’s top officer earlier this month, told The Associated Press in an interview.
The rift within the GOP, which spent the past four years almost singularly focused on Trump and his reelection, became apparent earlier this month after a mob of Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol as members of Congress met to certify President Biden’s electoral win.
That episode has prompted a debate among many Republicans over the future of the GOP and whether it should look past Trump and his brand of conservative populism, which has guided the party since 2016.
But Trump’s base of ultra-loyal supporters remains a critical force in Republican politics. Many of the activists who have entered the political stage in recent years now hold immense influence over the party and have sought to punish or purge those Republicans they see as having crossed the former president.
In states such as Massachusetts and Arizona, GOP members have sought to formally rebuke top Republican figures for criticizing Trump or acting in a way that did not align with the former president’s wishes. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), for instance, was censured by the state GOP for implementing emergency restrictions in an effort to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference and one of 10 GOP members to vote to impeach Trump, is facing calls for her removal from her leadership post by some in her party.
Another Republican lawmaker, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), acknowledged this week that his vote to impeach the former president could prove “terminal” to his political career, suggesting that he may face a primary challenge next year.
“I'll say to anybody that thinks my vote was for politics, they don't know me,” Kinzinger said on an episode of the podcast “The Axe Files.” “And I would say now they don't know politics because, you know, you have to get through a primary.”
The censures, primary threats and accusations of disloyalty to Trump have rattled party leaders and operatives who fear that feuding could undermine their chances of regaining power in the House and Senate next year.
“The party is basically the safety squad. So now we’re starting every race a little bit behind because of the divisive rhetoric, the purging, the gratuitous attacks on members of the party,” one GOP operative said. “So, yeah, it’s pretty clear that we need to get that under control.”
The current strategy, the operative said, is to keep from escalating tensions with Trump and his supporters while avoiding further isolating those who are hoping to move on from the Trump years.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who publicly blamed Trump last week for provoking the riot at the Capitol, joined the vast majority of Senate Republicans on Tuesday in voting to dismiss the House’s impeachment case against the former president.
Meanwhile, McCarthy’s meeting with Trump on Thursday could be seen as an attempt to get back into the former president’s good graces after a rocky few weeks. Given the influence of Trump’s voter base in GOP politics, a failure to do so could prove detrimental to House Republicans’ political prospects.
A statement released after the meeting in Florida by Trump’s leadership political action committee on Thursday said the former president had agreed to help McCarthy in winning back the House majority in 2022.
Republicans need only a handful of seats to recapture their majority in the lower chamber.
Winning back the Senate, however, may prove more difficult for the GOP. Democrats currently hold only the narrowest of majorities in the upper chamber but face a friendlier map in the upcoming midterm elections. Republicans, on the other hand, must defend 20 seats, including several in competitive states.
Leading the GOP’s efforts to win back the upper chamber is Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who became the new chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) earlier this month.
Scott was among Trump’s staunchest allies in the Senate and one of a few senators who objected this month to certifying Pennsylvania’s Electoral College vote after the Jan. 6 riot. That vote made some Republicans uneasy about his role at the NRSC, given pledges by several big donors to suspend contributions to those who voted against approving the election results.
But despite his support for the former president, he signaled last week that he would back incumbent senators over Trump-favored primary challengers, saying that he planned to focus his efforts on defeating Democrats rather than on intraparty battles.
“Part of what I'm trying to do is get everybody to focus on, you know, what the difference is between Republicans and Democrats,” Scott said. “I think it's gonna be clear with a lot of Biden stuff.”
In her interview with the AP this week, McDaniel also said that the national GOP would remain neutral in the 2024 presidential primaries, even if Trump decides to mount another bid for the White House, offering a hint at how the party could seek to appease competing factions in the future.
“The party has to stay neutral. I’m not telling anybody to run or not to run in 2024,” McDaniel said. “That’s going to be up to those candidates going forward. What I really do want to see [Trump] do, though, is help us win back majorities in 2022.”
Appeasing both Trump loyalists and those ready to ditch the former president is a tall order. But Republicans also acknowledged that it won’t be the first time they will have to find such a balance.
“There are always multiple factions, divisions in any party,” said Saul Anuzis, a Michigan-based Republican strategist and former chair of the state GOP. “We have factions based on congressional districts, partisan politics, personalities.”