Trump loyalists increasing ranks in GOP House
Expect a Trumpier U.S. House of Representatives next year.
House Republicans are not only forecast to win control of the lower chamber in November’s midterm elections, they’re also poised to bring with them a roster of new arrivals who have embraced the former president and his false claims of fraud surrounding his 2020 defeat.
A number of Trump loyalists have bumped off more moderate Republicans in the summer primaries — a list that grew longer on Tuesday with conservative victories in Florida and New York — while a number of other centrists are stepping into retirement.
The combination foreshadows a power shift in the House GOP that has the potential to complicate any bipartisan compromise with President Biden, while creating headaches for Republican leaders who will face pressure to demonstrate their governing chops in a new majority.
“I believe that [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy [Calif.] would have a rough time of it,” said David Mayhew, a political scientist at Yale University.
Joe Kent, a former Green Beret, defeated pro-impeachment Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in a Washington GOP primary earlier this month with the help of an endorsement from Trump. Running as an “America First” Republican, he railed against the “establishment” and publicly said that McCarthy, the House GOP leader, should not be Speaker.
And he’s hardly alone.
In the most recent round of primaries, winners in safe Republican House seats include former Trump appointee to the Pentagon Cory Mills, who has said that the 2020 election was “rigged.” Mills would replace outgoing Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.).
New York State GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy, who heavily touted his previous support from Trump in the primary despite not getting a formal endorsement for the race, also won a primary in a safe GOP district on Tuesday. Rep. Chris Jacobs (R-N.Y.) ended his reelection bid for that seat due to blowback to his support for an assault weapons ban.
One of the starkest signs that incoming House Republicans will be friendlier to the former president is that Mills and Langworthy were considered the less extreme candidates in their races.
Langworthy defeated Carl Paladino, a gaffe-prone Trump supporter who was endorsed by Trump allies Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), and Elise Stefanik (N.Y.). And Mills faced Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, who was also supported by Gaetz and Greene and accused Mills of being a “RINO,” an acronym for “Republican in name only.”
Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership that supports “governing Republicans” who are willing to work across the aisle, pointed to the defeats of Paladino and Sabatini to argue that loyalty to Trump may not be a defining feature of incoming Republicans.
“When the members sit around a table, Donald Trump is not what they discuss. They discuss Joe Biden and getting things done to help the American people,” Chamberlain said of the candidates supported by her group. “They’re not against them by any means. They voted for him. But he is not a topic of conversation.”
Still, several of the candidates highlighted as “Young Guns” by the National Republican Congressional Committee have also expressed skepticism about the 2020 election, even if they did not make loyalty to Trump a key part of their candidate pitch this year.
Derrick Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL seeking to replace retiring Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), attended the “Stop the Steal” rally at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but has said he never entered the Capitol and has since distanced himself from the events of that day.
Contributing to the likely power shift, many House Republicans who were critical of Trump or did not overtly embrace him will not be returning in 2022.
Eight of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack either declined to run for reelection or lost their primaries. Others, like Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) and Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), lost in primaries against other Trump-backed members after being put up against each other due to redistricting.
Meanwhile, Trump allies like Gaetz and Greene sailed through their primaries.
The House Freedom Caucus, the group of hard-line conservatives, is likely to grow. A PAC affiliated with the group, the House Freedom Fund, is supporting Trump-endorsed newcomers Anna Paulina Luna in Florida, Bo Hines in North Carolina, and Jim Bognet in Pennsylvania.
If history is any guide, Republican leaders will have a delicate line to walk if they win back House control with a more conservative majority.
GOP leaders embraced the Tea Party movement in the late aughts, which provided the burst of energy leading directly to their House takeover in 2010. But it was those same conservative majority-makers — and eventual Freedom Caucus founders — who fought their own leadership over everything from government spending to the proposed impeachment of President Obama.
The far-right pressure pushed former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) into retirement, prevented McCarthy from rising to the Speakership in 2015 and was a thorn in the side of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) during his short stint with the gavel.
Some congressional experts predict the new wave of Trump loyalists will create similar headaches for GOP leaders next year — unless leadership jumps on board.
“Donald Trump was the first Republican candidate for president who truly understood what the Tea Party was all about. The Paul Ryans of this world thought it was about small government. Wrong! It was a populist uprising,” said Bill Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Trump got it right; everybody else got it wrong. And so he has now elevated that big Trump party, which is socially conservative but economically inclined to big government that serves their interests.
“These are not libertarians; they’re anti-libertarians in all sorts of ways,” Galston added. “And that’s the Republican Party now.”
The influence of aggressive, Trump-loving House members and the number of headaches they create for GOP leadership next year may depend on how successful Republicans are in House races overall in this year’s midterms. Many of the newcomer GOP candidates in competitive races trying to unseat Democrats are more centrist, and largely do not talk about the former president.
The Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), a super PAC aligned with McCarthy, has also swooped in to support incumbent members who fought off more extreme challengers.
The CLF deployed a last-minute $50,000 in phone calls to support Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) on Tuesday as he fended off a surprisingly strong challenge from far-right, anti-Muslim activist Laura Loomer, who has been banned from multiple social media platforms.
It also helped centrist Republican Rep. David Valadao (Calif.), who voted to impeach Trump, and Rep. Young Kim (Calif.) advance to the general election as they faced more conservative challengers.