Trump digs in on attacks against Republican leaders
Former President Trump is showing no signs of wanting to unify the GOP even as party leaders scramble to smooth out divisions that they fear will be damaging in the 2022 midterm elections.
In a Saturday night speech to attendees at a donor retreat in Florida, Trump railed against his perceived enemies in both parties and offered little, if any, reassurance that he would try to rally together a GOP riddled with internal divisions and desperate to regain governing power in Washington.
The former president’s remarks served as a reminder of just how difficult it will be for Republicans to move past the controversies and infighting that have plagued them since Trump’s loss in last year’s presidential election.
“It was just Trump being Trump,” one person familiar with the former president’s remarks said. “That’s not surprising, but I don’t see how that moves the conversation forward.”
For many of the party’s top fundraisers and dignitaries, the Republican National Committee’s spring donor retreat in Palm Beach represented a chance to regroup after a series of devastating losses in recent months that cost the GOP the White House and its Senate majority.
What attendees got instead was an airing of old grievances by Trump, who nearly three months after leaving Washington remains fixated on relitigating his loss in the 2020 presidential election and advancing his feuds with Republicans whom he sees as insufficiently loyal.
Among his most notable targets was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), according to one source with knowledge of Trump’s speech to donors. The former president railed against McConnell, calling the Senate’s most powerful Republican a “dumb son of a bitch” and bashing him for acknowledging President Biden’s victory.
He also attacked Brian Kemp, the Republican governor of Georgia who made an enemy of Trump last year when he rejected the former president’s pleas to reverse the outcome of the presidential election in the Peach State. Trump has vowed to back a primary challenge to Kemp ahead of his reelection bid next year.
Trump also said that he remains disappointed with former Vice President Pence for not doing more to prevent the certification of the 2020 election results by Congress in January, according to a Politico report. The former president has repeatedly insisted that the presidential contest was rigged against him, claiming that widespread voter fraud and systemic irregularities were responsible for his loss despite the courts dismissing multiple lawsuits brought by Republicans challenging the results.
Trump remains the most influential Republican in the country and commands the continued support of a loyal voter base that appreciates his willingness to attack his political enemies, including those in his own party.
But some Republicans have grown weary with the intraparty feuds and argue that Trump’s attacks too often detract from a unified conservative argument against Democratic control in Washington.
One Republican who was briefed on Trump’s remarks on Saturday expressed frustration with the former president’s fixation on fellow Republicans, arguing that he should be directing “100 percent” of his energy on countering Biden and congressional Democrats.
“He’s still going after [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and all of them,” the Republican said. “All this other stuff though complicates things … it makes the message less clear.”
Republicans need to gain just five seats in the House and only one in the Senate next year to recapture their majorities in Congress.
But redistricting delays due to the coronavirus pandemic have created at least some uncertainty about the House map, and Republicans are facing a more challenging Senate map than Democrats are. The GOP is defending 20 seats in the upper chamber compared to only 14 for Democrats, and several of those seats are in expensive and ultra-competitive battleground states, like North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Florida.
At the same time, Trump’s vow to support primary challenges to GOP incumbents who have broken with him sets the stage for a series of bitter and uncertain nominating contests that will pit the former president’s political operation against that of the Republican Party.
Last week, the Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with McConnell, endorsed Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) 2022 reelection bid, setting up a fight with Trump, who pledged to oust Murkowski after she voted in February to convict him in his second Senate impeachment trial.
Similarly, Trump has already endorsed a primary challenge to Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), who voted to impeach the former president in January. He is also supporting Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) in his bid to oust Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who rebuffed Trump’s requests to overturn the election results in Georgia.
Party leaders have sought to calm the waters within the GOP in recent months. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and a longtime Trump ally, has publicly downplayed the notion of a Republican “civil war” while privately urging the former president to stay out of GOP Senate primaries next year.
Likewise, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), who heads the National Republican Congressional Committee, has said that Republicans should highlight the Trump administration’s accomplishments during their 2022 campaigns while also conceding that the former president’s desire to back primary challenges to GOP incumbents “is not going to be helpful.”
“He can do whatever he wants. Any citizen can do whatever he wants,” Emmer said at an event hosted by Politico last month. “But I’d tell him it’s better for us that we keep these people and have a majority that can be sustained going forward.”
Former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has spoken critically of Trump, said that Republicans should not expect Trump to drop his grievances and play a unifying role in the party anytime soon, regardless of the drama he may create for the GOP.
“Here’s a guy who’s unemployed, has nothing else to do except to cause trouble,” Boehner said in an interview on ABC’s “The View” on Monday. “And clearly, it’s obvious to me he’s not going to go away.”