It’s Politico and I don’t expect much, but the headline somehow managed to fall below my expectations: “Trump gears up for war with his own party.”
The Saturday piece from Gabby Orr and Meridith McGraw begins by describing the proverbial lion in winter, provided that lion has had his Twitter account taken away from him.
“Trump has rejected meetings with everyone from former South Carolina governor and 2024 hopeful Nikki Haley to House and Senate GOP candidates vying for his ear — preferring to spend his days leisurely calling friends, binging cable news, golfing with a rotating cast of partners and basking in standing ovations whenever he arrives for dinner on Mar-a-Lago’s outdoor patio,” they wrote.
“One person close to the ex-president said he’s become ‘unreachable’ to anyone outside his limited circle of loyal aides, longtime friends and die-hard political allies.”
But — duh-duh-DUH! — “That’s about to change.”
Yes, it seems the former president, who can still serve a second term if he chooses to run in 2024, “will soon begin vetting candidates at Mar-a-Lago who are eager to fulfill his promise to exact vengeance upon incumbent Republicans who’ve scorned him, and to ensure every open GOP seat in the 2022 midterms has a MAGA-approved contender vying for it.”
“Trump already has received dozens of requests from prospective candidates seeking to introduce themselves and nab his endorsement, and formal meetings with them could begin as early as March,” Orr and McGraw wrote.
“Now that Trump has survived his second Senate impeachment trial, he has shifted his focus to post-presidential activism — a venture mostly bankrolled by his new leadership PAC, Save America, which had $31 million in its coffers at the start of this month.”
Politico said other top Republicans, naturally, want him to stay within the party apparatus. The problem is the party apparatus is in flux after Trump’s departure from the White House — and that means the party itself is figuring out what it’s going to be.
In the House, the GOP seems to be split between old-school clubby types like Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the only member of Republican leadership that voted to impeach Trump, and Trump allies like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.
In the Senate, all roads go through Minority Leader Mitch McConnell right now. You may remember the Kentucky senator as the guy who voted to acquit Trump and then all but called him guilty in a floor speech, making friends with absolutely nobody in the process.
So, yes, working with the same Republicans who are trying to keep him at arm’s length right now isn’t terribly appealing for Trump, nor is the fact Trump might recruit opponents to primary politicians he’s at odds with, such as Govs. Mike DeWine of Ohio and Brian Kemp of Georgia.
This is the kind of thing that has caused much hand-wringing among GOP types, with GOP South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham saying “I don’t want to eat our own.”
Yes, primarying incumbents seldom ends well, particularly in swing states or districts. The preternatural desire to seek vengeance is also one of the less savory (and wildly unproductive) aspects of the Trumpian character.
However, if the former president wants to build a long-lasting movement in (at least temporary) exile in Florida, there’s a definite opportunity here — and it doesn’t involve going to war with his own party, but merely battling for the soul of a working-class Republican Party in a post-neoliberal world.
The headline is also based on a wishful assumption that, while accepted at face value by the Peggy Noonans of the world, isn’t necessarily true: that the GOP isn’t Trump’s party now. The idea he suddenly handed the keys to the Republican Party over to the Lincoln Project types on his way down to Mar-a-Lago is a dubious one at best. (And they would have had to turn them in shortly thereafter, anyway.)
I want to take you back to Nov. 4, the day after the election — before things went bad.
The media consensus was that Donald Trump and the Republicans had done surprisingly well, which is to say that every media expectation was wrong. After four years of demonization and polls showing Trump down by double digits in the popular vote, he lost by 4.5 percentage points. In the swing states needed to claim victory, the margins were razor-thin.
The Democrats had been expected to retake the Senate easily. Now, they needed two runoffs in Georgia to have any chance of taking control of the upper chamber — and it would be shaky control at that, with two or three more moderate Democrats that could throw a spanner into the legislative works.
Democrats had been expected to increase their margin in the House. They lost nearly every toss-up seat (and plenty that weren’t even toss-ups as well) and were left with a severely depleted majority — the slimmest since World War II, according to The Wall Street Journal.
And why? Trump had rejected the gospel of free trade at any cost, particularly with China. He believed tariffs could serve legitimate policy goals. He didn’t feel ossified alliances, treaties and arrangements necessarily served us well. He thought that manufacturing jobs weren’t just something to be shipped over to ASEAN, that coal miners shouldn’t just be told to learn to code. (Or nowadays, to build solar panels.) He’d built a working-class, multiracial, multigenerational GOP.
Most importantly, whether you agreed with what he said or how he said it, he believed in fighting. He wasn’t the kind of Republican that Democrats claim to be nostalgic for — the kind that hems and haws a bit, then grumbles and gives in to Democrat demands in the end.
(Of course, watch what happens when one of these Republicans actually gains some power; John McCain and Mitt Romney were both demonized in their runs for the presidency despite the fact they represent the most watered-down, acquiescent version of “conservatism” there is.)
Now, this all collapsed quickly. Voter fraud claims didn’t pan out in court. Former Trump ally Lin Wood was strutting about the stage in the Peach State spouting wild-eyed theories and imploring the state’s Republicans not to vote. That ended predictably.
And then came Jan. 6 and the Capitol riot.
Those painful few months obscured an important message. Call the coalition that Trump assembled what you want: populists, nationalists, post-neoliberalists. They may be horribly unfashionable now, but last November, they proved to be a critical force turning out the vote for Republicans in what we were told was going to be a brutal election for the GOP — particularly with COVID, an establishment media that didn’t even pretend to hold the president in anything other than sneering contempt, and states changing their voting laws at will.
There are issues here still, particularly when it comes to exacting vengeance on those who turned their back on Trump. Primarying Republicans who aren’t sufficiently conservative sounds like a great idea until you realize you’ve frittered away finite resources to make it easier for a Democrat who won’t be conservative at all.
However, the dusty, cobwebbed establishment is using the events of the past few months to prove that nature abhors a power vacuum and it’s more than willing to move right in.
With his floor speech at the conclusion of the impeachment trial, McConnell reasserted his power and become every bit the dour, gray-suited mortician he was not so long ago.
This isn’t a tenable path going forward, however, not with the lack of energy or results it has produced.
The future doesn’t belong to the Liz Cheneys and the Mitt Romneys, Beltway insiders who are marginally more conservative than the moderate-ish dishwater liberal Beltway insiders trying to figure out how to be the next Kirsten Gillibrand. We need real conservatives, not some people who tell anecdotes about Ronald Reagan, mumble some vague stuff about the Constitution and shuffle off to an AEI cocktail hour in Foggy Bottom.
Say what you will about Donald Trump: He fights and he can vet a fighter. Trump himself can’t do it in an elected capacity until 2024 — and even then we don’t know what the future holds.
In a midterm election where the Republicans desperately need big wins — particularly given the Senate map — the yawning, sclerotic country-club types aren’t the ones you want behind the wheel of the party when you need to energize the base.
Trump won’t be on the ballot in 2022, but candidates in his vein will be. This won’t be one man going to war with the party — a party largely still his, anyway — but a former president energizing a movement battling for the GOP’s soul.
This is hardly even about Trump anymore. The anger at the rigged system began long before this, with the insurgent campaigns of Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, Ron Paul, Herman Cain and then Donald Trump. In fact, you could even trace this back as far as Barry Goldwater, or even William F. Buckley.
The assumption that the Democrats and the hemming, hawing Republican types have — that they’ll all get a bit of respite now that Donald Trump’s Twitter is on mute and we can all get back to status quo ante — is woefully misguided.
That said, it’ll be a heck of a lot easier to get that point across if our incoming Republicans in 2022 are Lauren Boeberts and not Liz Cheneys. And if Trump does want to run in 2024, I’d imagine he’d much rather see them rather than the same dusty faces making excuses as to why amorphous, obsequious centrism didn’t catch on in 2022.
Politico is right that Trump is gearing up to have a major impact on the party in the midterms and beyond, but he’s not “going to war with his own party.” He’s leading a battle, with millions and millions of other Republicans, for the future of what the party really means.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.