A lot of uncertainty for GOP heading into 2023

The Republican Party, which entered 2022 with ambitions of recapturing both chambers of Congress and using discontent with President Biden to mount a strong case for retaking the White House in 2024, is entering 2023 in a state of uncertainty across the board.

Former President Trump, who for the last six years has had a vise grip on the GOP, is politically weakened and legally vulnerable. Trump is the only declared candidate in the 2024 field, but the landscape for the presidential nomination remains unsettled with several others eyeing a bid.

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is facing blowback from a handful of state party leaders and some conservatives as she seeks to win another term during the party’s meetings next month.

In the Senate, Republicans are coming off a disappointing midterm showing that saw them fail to recapture the majority. And in the House, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is still short of the votes needed to secure the Speaker’s gavel next month as a handful of conservative firebrands withhold their support.

“The Republican-on-Republican attacks aren’t helping the party reset after the midterms,” said Dan Eberhart, a GOP donor and fundraiser. “We just look weak. But it’s a process we may have to endure to come back as a reinvigorated party for the 2024 contest.”

The GOP’s uncertain future starts at the very top, where some conservatives are calling for McDaniel to be replaced as head of the national party after an underwhelming midterm election cycle. 

McDaniel needs a majority of support from the RNC’s 168 members at next month’s party meeting, and she has the backing of 107 as of mid-December. But Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney who has represented Trump in his election lawsuits, is seeking to mount a challenge, and a few state party leaders have called on McDaniel to step down.

McDaniel’s supporters argue she is not to blame for the GOP’s problems heading into 2023. Instead, they point to candidate quality issues and the shadow of Trump looming over November’s elections.

Trump-backed candidates lost key Senate races in Pennsylvania, Arizona, New Hampshire, Nevada and Georgia. Had Republicans won two of those races, they would have held onto the majority.

Instead, Senate Republicans enter 2023 in the minority and aiming to reorganize after Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) unsuccessfully challenged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to lead the conference. 

Even in the House, where Republicans hoped to be celebrating a new majority heading into the new year, the GOP is facing down multiple obstacles.

McCarthy, who has been angling to become Speaker for years, still appears short of the 218 votes he’ll need on Jan. 3 when the new Congress begins. Republicans have 222 seats, meaning McCarthy can only afford to lose four votes.

At least five House Republicans have explicitly said or strongly indicated they will not vote for McCarthy to be Speaker, and several others have withheld support for him as they push for commitments on governing priorities and rules changes that would empower individual members. 

If McCarthy’s difficulty getting to 218 weren’t enough, the party is also facing a new controversy: Incoming Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) is under scrutiny for embellishing or fabricating various parts of his background, from his claim that he was Jewish to his wealth and his place of residence.

GOP leadership has yet to weigh in on the situation, but Rep.-elect Nick LaLota, a fellow New York Republican, has called for a House Ethics Committee investigation into Santos, and for law enforcement to get involved if needed.

“House Republicans like me are eager to be sworn in and focus on our Commitment to America and our respective districts,” LaLota said in a statement. “Yet, over the last few weeks I have heard from countless Long Islanders how deeply troubled they are by the headlines surrounding George Santos.”

While the uncertainty at the RNC and in Congress is likely to be sorted out in the coming weeks, Republicans are likely to be dealing with the murky nature of the 2024 presidential primary well into the new year.

Trump is the only declared candidate in the 2024 race going into 2023, but that is expected to change.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a handful of GOP senators and governors are expected to decide in the coming months whether to challenge Trump, who is at his most politically vulnerable since the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riots.

Many of Trump’s most high-profile endorsed candidates lost their midterm elections; polls in recent months have shown voters are ready to move on to another candidate in 2024; his reelection campaign has largely been inactive; and Trump has created headaches for Republican lawmakers by dining with a white nationalist and suggesting the Constitution be terminated to allow his return to power.

Conservatives remain optimistic the party will work out its issues and provide a credible alternative to the Biden administration by 2024. But there are problems to sort out in the new year.

“It’s more a prolonged transition than disarray,” said Eberhart, the GOP fundraiser who is also CEO of Canary, LLC. 

“But at the end of the day, Republicans must show voters they can govern. If they can’t, Republicans will have more disappointing election cycles like this one,” he added.

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