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Republicans fear Trump civil war could cost them in 2024

The rising animosity between pro-Trump and anti-Trump forces is creating the prospect of something no Republican wants: a GOP civil war that could split the party in two and leave the path clear for Democrats to win big in 2024. 

The fear is that two years of infighting won’t just put the White House at risk. Republicans worry it could also hand Democrats the House and Senate and at least two more years of united control over Washington.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) raised that possibility last week, saying his “greatest fear” involves the possibility of a repeat of 1964, when the party split between Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller.

“I can imagine a Trump-anti-Trump war over the next two years that just guarantees Biden’s re-election in a landslide and guarantees that Democrats control everything,” Gingrich told The New York Times.

Top Republicans are not ready thus far to hit the panic button and say a repeat of 1964 is far from assured as former President Trump and other would-be candidates stake their ground.

“You’ve got tensions in the Democratic Party. You’ve got tensions here, but no,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said. “Dysfunctional political parties is the norm. It’s not the exception on both sides.” 

But the battle over Trump also spilled further into public view on Monday as Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was questioned on Fox Business repeatedly about the ex-president’s impact on the 2022 midterms and the Georgia Senate runoff.

Several candidates the former president had pushed across the primary finish line failed to secure wins in key Senate races, including in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Nevada. In Georgia, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) defeated Trump-backed Republican candidate Herschel Walker in last week’s runoff. 

“I’m not into the blame game right now. I think we have to do an analysis. I think it is too quick,” McDaniel told host Stuart Varney, who laid the blame at Trump’s feet. “Most importantly, how do we get independents to support Republicans and how we get Republicans to support other Republicans?”

“This infighting within our party is never going to help that. We need Trump voters, we need McCain voters, we need Romney voters and then some in order to beat the Democrats,” she added. 

Republicans are still picking up the pieces from a disastrous 2022 midterm cycle, in which the party expected to win a substantial House majority and retake the Senate after a two-year hiatus. Neither of those things happened, leaving the GOP to plot the future while working out just how much influence Trump will have.

Republicans point out that, regardless of the outcome of the presidential primary, they’ll have a favorable map in 2024 — and that the presidential contest has barely begun.

Democrats hold 23 of the 33 Senate seats that will be up in 2024, including several that in ruby-red states like West Virginia, Montana and Ohio.

“In ’24, we’re going to have a spirited contest for the nomination to be president. We have a very favorable map, and after being disappointed in 2022, I think people are going to up their game [because] they don’t want to do this twice,” Graham said. 

While the Senate races offer hope, however, the looming presidential primary fight is likely to get bloody no matter how it’s sliced. And Trump has remained squarely in the headlines since announcing last month he would run for president.

The first month of Trump’s presidential bid was full of moments that made even some of his allies wince. That initial stretch was headlined by hosting Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, and white supremacist Nick Fuentes at his Mar-a-Lago resort for dinner and his call to terminate parts of the Constitution in order to overturn the 2020 presidential election results — both of which resulted in rebukes from across the GOP.

Some top GOP figures believe it would behoove the party to look outward and keep the attention on President Biden, just as it tried to do during the midterms. 

According to the most recent Reuters-Ipsos poll, only 38 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s job in office. 

“Not as long as we keep Joe Biden in focus. We are united around Joe Biden. We are less united around other personalities and people,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said with a chuckle. “I don’t worry about ‘civil wars.’” 

“One of the things I always try to not do is be disrespectful to the rank-and-file Republicans because we’re not sheep. It’s our greatest strength and our greatest weakness, and in politics it can be a weakness,” Cramer said.

For others, the overall message has to change. A number of Republican candidates who lost in November did so after falsely peddling for months that the 2020 election was stolen, showing that voters have little tolerance for that talk moving forward — especially in Arizona and Georgia, two states that both voted against high-profile candidates supported by Trump.

Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who previously chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters when asked for takeaways from the Georgia runoff, “Don’t scare the children.” 

“We need to come up with a vision that appeals to at least 50 percent plus one of the electorate and communicate it to people,” Young said when asked to expound on the comment. “Don’t get caught appealing to a narrow segment of the electorate, which is something we have a tendency to do from time to time.” 

Tags 2024 election Joe Biden Lindsey Graham Newt Gingrich Raphael Warnock Ronna McDaniel Ye
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