GOP: McConnell-Trump civil war will hurt Republicans
Republicans are worried that the battle between former President Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could torpedo their efforts to win back majorities in the House and Senate in 2022.
GOP operatives believe they’re in position to flip both chambers if they can run against President Biden’s agenda and avoid a destructive civil war.
Democrats are clinging to the smallest majority in the House in modern times and a 50-50 split in the Senate. The party for the incoming administration historically loses seats in its first midterm cycle.
But Republicans fear they could fumble those opportunities away amid the nasty feud that has broken out between Trump and McConnell over the future of the party.
The split could depress fundraising, dampen turnout, alienate swing voters and push bad general election candidates through divided primary fields, Republicans say.
Veteran GOP operative Brian Walsh pointed to the GOP’s recent failures in Georgia as evidence of the kind of calamity that awaits if Republicans are fighting themselves heading into Election Day.
Trump’s claims about systemic voter fraud tore the party apart ahead of the Georgia Senate runoffs, eroding turnout both among Trump’s supporters in the northern part of the state and among right-leaning swing voters in the suburbs.
Republicans lost close races for both seats in the traditionally red state, costing them a majority in the Senate.
“The rhetoric and phony allegations definitely impacted turnout in Georgia,” Walsh said. “When Republicans are talking about personal grievances, it detracts from the effort to win back the majority. The landscape, at least to start this cycle, is not terribly favorable to Republicans, so every seat will matter here.”
Privately, many Republicans believe they are likelier to win back the House than the Senate.
Republicans need to win fewer than 10 seats to take back the majority in the House after flipping 15 seats in the last cycle.
In the Senate, the map is a tricky one for Republicans.
There are pickup opportunities in purple states such as Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire, but Trump lost all of those states in 2020.
Republicans are also defending Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, two swing states Trump lost in 2020 but won in 2016. There is a GOP-held seat opening up in North Carolina, which Trump barely won.
McConnell and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) have taken different paths with Trump that could influence how some of those races play out.
McCarthy, whose caucus is full of Trump supporters, continues to hold Trump up as the leader of the GOP. McConnell is urging his party to move on from Trump.
There are scores of unanswered questions around Trump’s involvement in 2022, including whether he’ll fundraise for Senate Republicans and how aggressively he’ll back primary challengers.
Trump’s allies say it’s possible that the feud between Trump and McConnell will not explode into the massive civil war everyone anticipates if McConnell backs off. Trump is known to move quickly from target to target and he likes supporting winners.
But if the battle continues to escalate, they say McConnell has met an opponent in Trump who has the full support of a majority of Republicans and a fundraising operation to match.
“If you care about Republicans having a successful cycle in the Senate, the best thing is for Mitch and everyone around him to take a step back and take a deep breath and hope some of these issues naturally dissipate on Trump’s side,” said one former adviser to Trump’s campaigns.
“Continually poking Trump in the eyes is not conducive to GOP success in the Senate and it’s not a fair fight,” the adviser said. “Usually, the fight is rigged against anti-establishment types, but this time it’s totally rigged against Mitch and the establishment because 80 percent of our voters disagree with him and he’s no longer facing someone he has a huge financial advantage over.”
McConnell’s primary aim in rebuking Trump appears to be to rid the party of the fringe candidates that have lost winnable races in the past and attract nonstop media attention if they make it to Washington.
Republicans remember the Tea Party primary fights all too clearly and blame the bad insurgent candidates for losing at least five winnable Senate races between 2010 and 2012.
By denouncing the worst elements of Trump’s base and calling out House members such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), McConnell hopes to rally Republicans behind mainstream conservatives who can win primaries and general elections.
“Mitch believes that we can win the Senate back if we recruit good candidates in some of those Democratic-held seats and support them with money and expertise,” said Charlie Black, a veteran GOP operative. “He’s got a good track record of doing that. Trump is of course a factor if he gets into some of these races and supports right-wing candidates. But these are swing states and shouldn’t be put in Trump’s hands. Put them in the hands of good candidates and give them the support of the national party.”
The tension between Trump and McConnell has made life difficult for Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), who is running the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) this cycle.
McConnell is deeply involved at the NRSC but Scott is close with Trump.
The Florida senator is pushing for unity among Republicans as the cycle heats up.
He and other Republicans are hopeful they can move on from intraparty battles to focusing on the Democratic agenda.
“We have a long, long way to go between now and Election Day,” said a Republican Senate operative. “The Democrats in Congress are helping hold up school reopenings, and are pushing radical policies like open borders, higher taxes and the Green New Deal. Republicans are unified against that agenda and will rally to defeat it at the ballot box in 2022.”
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