Sometimes, during a busy week in Washington, a recap is in order. So let’s take stock of the Trump GOP for a moment:
GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, a diehard conservative, daughter of a diehard conservative vice president, has been excommunicated from the Wyoming Republican Party.
GOP Rep. Paul Gosar, who tweeted a bizarre anime video showing him appearing to kill progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is forgiven at a House GOP caucus meeting. (And when Democrats decided to censure him and remove him from his committee assignments Wednesday, only two Republicans agreed his behavior warranted such punishment. The final vote was 223-207.)
And what about those 13 House GOPers who dared to vote for the Biden infrastructure bill, which two-thirds of the American public actually wants? There’s talk of stripping them of their committee assignments.
As only Alice in Wonderland might ask of the Republicans, “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”
Well, maybe not such a puzzle.
Meet the Trump 2022 caucus, in which all that matters is whether a) you are willing to say the 2020 election was rigged, b) you voted against impeachment, and c) anything Trump is against (like the infrastructure bill), you are against, too. There is room in your heart only for Donald Trump.
If you’re Kevin McCarthy, add one more priority: becoming House speaker, for which you believe you need Trump. (Even though the ever-loyal Trump has told people he doesn’t really like you and could go on a jihad against your bid for the speakership even if you win back the House majority. The august Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene seems to be in favor of that program.)
Some might be able to summon some pity for McCarthy, who, after all, is trying to navigate between his moderates and his Gosar goons, but nah. After all, how much is a speakership worth? Enough, apparently to justify a defense of Gosar on the grounds that Democrats are simply a bunch of hypocrites, abusing their power by taking action against a member who threatened another member’s life. (Just reminding: Republicans also shrugged or fled for the hills when asked about Trump’s offensive, even dangerous, tweets. So at least they’re consistent.)
But I digress. Back to the unfolding GOP scenario. The worry, says former Republican National Committee communications director Doug Heye, is that the party is heading to a place in which “we don’t have to accept elections and policy doesn’t matter, like penalizing people voting for an infrastructure bill.” (Not to mention the fact that Trump himself was gung ho in 2019 for a $2 trillion measure until he walked out because Democrats wouldn’t halt their investigations of him.) And the question, Heye adds, is “How do we get past this?”
Good question, but hard to answer given what’s going on with Trump’s heavy footprint in GOP primaries. His vetting process seems to revolve around a central question: Who likes me the most? Personal vulnerabilities be damned.
As a result, by my last count, there are two Trump-endorsed Senate candidates who have been accused of domestic abuse: In Pennsylvania, the party’s front-runner, Sean Parnell, has been accused by his estranged wife of choking her and hitting one of their children – charges he denies. And in Georgia, Trump’s buddy Herschel Walker had to answer questions about his ex-wife’s accusation that he had held a gun to her head. He said in a 2008 CNN interview that he didn’t remember being violent toward his wife, but he didn’t deny it. A Walker candidacy is not exactly what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had in mind, but now Walker has his blessing. Go figure.
But wait. There’s one wannabe senator with sexual misconduct allegations against him who is still vying for the Trump thumbs-up: former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens. Never mind that he resigned the governorship in 2018 after revelations of an affair with a woman who accused him of sexual misconduct and threats of blackmail. Greitens admitted to the affair, but denied the rest. He’s a Trumpist now, as are many in the Missouri GOP US Senate primary race. So the primary is getting ugly, which isn’t a happy place for Republicans as they struggle to see whom Trump loves the most.
The list of potential problems goes on: Trump wants former Georgia Sen. David Perdue to run against Gov. Brian Kemp, who actually had the temerity to challenge Trump’s rigged election conspiracy theories. GOP candidates in Arizona are still talking rigged election to make Trump happy, as are Republicans in Ohio. It is as if they have nothing else to run on. The irony, of course, is that they do.
All of which pleases Democrats. “He’s elevated problematic and flawed candidates,” says David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “It’s intensified vicious and expensive infighting. And he’s deterred some candidates from entering some races.”
Consider GOP New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu – seen as a great Senate recruit – who recently declined to run for the seat. While he has declared himself a Trump supporter in the past, he also was reelected in 2020 with 65% of the vote – 20 points better than Trump. Considered a moderate, he complained about gridlock in Washington as a reason for deciding against a run. But he’s not exactly a candidate who would have been excited to worship at the shrine of Trump.
Sure, divisive primaries can fade by next November. And no doubt about it, Democrats are waging an uphill battle given President Joe Biden’s dismal approval ratings. Not to mention the fact that 70% of Americans say the economy is in bad shape. And yes, Republican Glenn Youngkin won in Virginia by straddling the Trump effect. But remember: He had no primary, winning a party convention. And in a blue state, establishing some distance from the ex-President is an easier task. Trump still says Youngkin won because of him.
From Mar-a-Lago, Trump is happily playing kingmaker, and it’s working. New Republican candidates are afraid to challenge him; Republican incumbents cower, too. And it’s only getting worse. Among the talking points: McConnell should resign; anyone who votes for Biden legislation should be punished; the rigged election was real; there was no January 6 insurrection.
The Republicans, in an otherwise admirable political environment, are somehow being driven by the man who once lost it all for them. A truly Alice in Wonderland predicament. As Alice asked the Cheshire Cat: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” To which the Cat responds: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
Sadly, it seems, all roads now lead to Donald Trump.