Since Donald Trump left office, very few congressional Republicans have been willing to publicly take him on. Most of them have either continued publicly supporting him, or tried to avoid the subject. But Republican politicians are selfish by definition. So once Trump’s ongoing downfall reached a certain stage, we were always going to see various Republican politicians make the selfish strategic decision that it was time to throw Trump under the bus for their own gain. It was just a matter of which development was going to prompt them to conclude that the benefits of casting Trump aside had become greater than the benefits of continuing to kiss his backside.
Now that it’s becoming rather clear to everyone that Trump is going to end up criminally indicted at the state level before the midterms, it’s all starting to come to a head. Days ago Mike Pence, a Koch puppet, finally publicly condemned Trump’s attempt at overthrowing the election. Trump fired back at Pence accordingly. And even as Pence’s staff was selling Trump out to the January 6th Committee, Trump had his puppets at the Republican National Committee formally censure the two House Republicans on the committee.
If Trump’s RNC censure of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger was aimed at scaring other congressional Republicans into remaining loyal to him, it appears to have backfired. Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski, who were never Trump allies, predictably lashed out at the RNC last week. But now Mitch McConnell, by far the most influential Republican in office, is also calling out the RNC over the censure debacle. So is McConnell’s sidekick John Thune, the second highest ranking Senate Republican.
There can be no overstating how big of a development this is. Mitch McConnell and his top lieutenant are publicly condemning the Republican National Committee over its overtly pro-Trump agenda, even as the Koch network is using Mike Pence to attack Trump. The people with real money and influence in the Republican Party have clearly decided that now is the time to banish Trump from the party, in order to give the party the best chance in the midterms. And yet they don’t control the Republican National Committee; Trump does.
It’s important to keep in mind that these are all bad people. None of them has suddenly “grown a conscience” or “grown a spine” or decided to join the “good guys.” Nothing works that way in Republican politics. It’s just that the Republican establishment and Donald Trump have each finally decided that their corrupt goals are no longer compatible with each other, and so now they’re trying to wrest power away from each other, or if necessary destroy each other.
It’s now clear that even as the Republican establishment is looking to win the 2022 midterms by throwing Trump under the bus, Trump is looking to hang onto his ludicrous 2024 fantasy by having the RNC promote a pro-Trump, pro-insurrectionist narrative. The Republican establishment is surely looking at ways to try to wrest control of the RNC from Trump, oust his puppet RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, and try to salvage the midterms. But the question isn’t so much which side will win this Republican civil war; it’s about the damage that’ll be done to the Republican Party while this civil war plays out.
That’s going to be difficult to predict. It’s too chaotic. There are too many variables. No one knows precisely when Trump will be indicted, and just how self defeatingly berserk his behavior will become once he is. But one thing that Trump has been consistent about over the past year is that he really wants revenge against the Republican politicians he blames for having been insufficiently “loyal” to him during his failed attempt at overthrowing the government. As it sinks in for Trump that his life is over, just how much damage will he try to do to a Republican Party establishment that’s opportunistically trying to help finish him off?
None of this automatically means that the Democrats will win the midterms. What it does mean is that the inherent traditional advantage the Republicans should have in these midterms, by virtue of being the party that most recently lost the White House, is in great jeopardy. It gives the Democrats a serious chance of retaining control of the House, and perhaps even expanding its majority in the Senate, in 2022. Liberal activists will have to put in the work on things like voter registration and getting out the vote. But the Democrats will have a real shot in November, as the percolating Republican Party civil war continues to bubble over and a shattered Trump tries to take people on his own side down with him.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report