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GOP In-Fighting Suggests Trump’s Influence Is Weakening

A growing number of senior GOP figures have spoken out about how Trump and Trumpism are toxic to independent voters.

Former President Donald Trump arrives on stage to speak during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home on November 15, 2022, in Palm Beach, Florida.

In closed meetings between Kevin McCarthy and far right members of his caucus, in which the former attempted to secure the votes to be elected incoming speaker of the House, Marjorie Taylor Greene extracted a promise that McCarthy would launch investigations into Nancy Pelosi, the Department of Justice, and the jail conditions in which January 6 insurrectionists were held.

This is an absurdity — a major governing party is throwing in its lot, and its investigative powers, with a violent armed mob that attempted to sabotage the peaceful transfer of power and reinstall Trump in the White House by force. It is also, unfortunately, the entirely predictable endpoint of years of rightward drift, and the logical consequence of McCarthy’s contemptible game of footsie with QAnon acolytes such as Greene.

Backed by an emboldened hard right, McCarthy will find it all-but-impossible to do anything other than launch one posturing investigation after the next between now and the 2024 elections. Numerically, the hard-right far outnumbers the moderates within the GOP House, which will likely push McCarthy rightward. Yet, several moderates — including at least seven from New York State — remain, which means if McCarthy veers too far to the right he may face unrest, and possibly even noncooperation, from his moderate flank.

Because of the willingness of the hard right to (at least metaphorically) blow things up, and McCarthy’s failure to stand up to GOP fanatics and oppose anti-democratic methods and ideas now coursing through Trump’s MAGA ranks, the incoming Congress promises to be what Vanity Fair labelled a “House of Horrors.” It will be a place where extremists such as Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and other devotees of the right-wing attentat hold court, not in a meaningful attempt to govern but in an effort to paralyze and embarrass the Biden administration. We will likely see, in these efforts, one rehash after the next of the Benghazi hearings that were held from 2014 to 2016 with the explicit hope of discrediting Hillary Clinton in the eyes of the voting public.

For the next two years, much of the GOP’s caucus in the House of Representatives will likely continue parroting Trump’s conspiracy theories and attempting to bully and to intimidate those who stand in the way of his efforts to return to power.

Yet this House of Horrors will by no means be universally welcomed within GOP ranks. It’s possible that a MAGA House could, ultimately, provoke a handful of moderate Republicans to defect from the party. And even if it doesn’t, in other arenas the GOP won’t be nearly so sympathetic with a Trumpist agenda. In fact, even as the House’s GOP caucus swings ever more into the realm of MAGA extremism, viewing its primary function as being to simply soften the ground for Trump’s rerun for the presidency in 2024, in the Senate a growing number of Republicans seem eager to ditch Trump and Trumpism; and at the state level Trump, who committed to another presidential run in a rambling, dishonest and, frankly, very stale speech this past Tuesday, is in a public pissing match with a host of Republican governors who would dearly love the party to shed the extremism that proved so costly to the GOP’s electoral chances in 2022.

In recent weeks Trump has used his Truth Social platform to repeatedly lambast Mitch McConnell, including writing that the Republican Senate Minority Leader has a “DEATH WISH.” He has, on a number of occasions, used racist language to attack McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao. He has made a bizarre, anti-Asian attack on Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin — who is not Asian, but whose name Trump apparently thought it would be funny to mock as “sounding Chinese.” He has lambasted Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who, in winning a landslide against Charlie Crist, emerged from the midterm elections as one of the few bright lights for Republicans in what was otherwise a dismal electoral performance. Trump now calls him “DeSanctimonious,” and muses about how “average” the governor is. The Mar-a-Lago ghoul has also gone off on a tear about elections being stolen in states such as Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where his hand-picked candidates failed to achieve lift-off.

As DeSantis’s stock soars with GOP primary voters — latest polling shows that in Texas, for example, DeSantis is now 10 percent ahead of Trump among primary voters; and the Club for Growth recently released polls of Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans showing a similar result — expect Trump’s tantrums to only increase in volume.

Meanwhile, Trump’s opponents have been firing off their rhetorical cannons as well. New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu blamed Trump-backed “extremists” for costing the party votes, and outgoing Maryland GOP governor Larry Hogan lambasted the ex-president for repeatedly leading his party to electoral defeats. Earlier this week, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, an erstwhile Trump ally-turned-critic, was loudly applauded at a meeting of Republican governors when he launched a stinging critique of Trump’s sway over the GOP. And Mitch McConnell, at various times in the run-up to the election, reiterated his belief that primary voters’ choice of extremist candidates was a turn-off to moderate voters and would prevent a Red Wave from washing over the nation come November 8. After the election, he argued that the results vindicated his position.

Rupert Murdoch, too, has been stepping into the fray. Last week, the Guardian reported that he had phoned Trump to tell him his media organizations could not back the ex-president in his campaign to recapture the White House. In the wake of the election results, even the New York Post, once Trump’s most reliable of tabloid supporters, has turned on him with a series of brutal headlines, including a cover story mocking him as “Trumpty Dumpty.” A few days later the paper followed up by ridiculing his presidential campaign announcement, declaring that he was “a Florida retiree,” whose “cholesterol levels are unknown, but his favorite food is a charred steak with ketchup.”

GOP megadonors such as Stephen Schwarzman, who previously helped float Trump’s campaigns, were also quick to distance themselves from the ex-president’s efforts to win the 2024 GOP nomination.

None of these are just minor cracks that can simply be papered over. There is a reckoning coming within the GOP as a growing number of senior figures wrestle with the reality that Trumpism and Trump are, while popular among the GOP base, toxic to independent voters. A Trumpist House that cannot legislate — but can investigate — will do tremendous damage not only to the U.S.’s body politic but, more particularly, to the prospects of the GOP going forward into the next election cycle. Trump’s absolute refusal to cede the spotlight or to make way for new leaders within the party — his authoritarian belief that le GOP, c’est moi — will ultimately trigger chaos for those who currently hold aloft that party’s banner.

If McCarthy continues to compromise with heinous figures such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, he may have his moment with the speaker’s gavel. But in all likelihood that moment, and the tiny majority upon which it rests, will be at least as much characterized by bitter, and very public, party infighting as by any efforts to genuinely set an agenda moving forward.

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