Republican infighting has spilled out into public view less than one week before the midterm elections.
President TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE on Wednesday unleashed a stunning Twitter attack on Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (R-Wis.), accusing the retiring lawmaker of not doing enough to protect the lower chamber’s majority.
Earlier this week, conservative Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingGOP brawls over Trump on eve of first Jan. 6 hearing Pence to visit Iowa to headline event for congressman Former Steve King challenger on rural voters in GOP states: 'They hate Democrats' MORE’s (R-Iowa) racially insensitive remarks and support of white nationalist politicians earned a sharp and rare rebuke from the head of the House GOP’s campaign arm, increasing pressure on other leaders to follow suit.
And scores of Republicans have openly rejected Trump’s call to end birthright citizenship via executive order, a controversial plan that has divided the GOP and further inflamed GOP tensions over immigration policy.
The intraparty feuds, while hardly unusual for the Trump era, point to heightened tensions as control of the House appears to be slipping away from the GOP. It also threatens to distract Republicans and derail messaging plans while offering a preview of the finger-pointing that is likely to occur should Republicans suffer brutal electoral losses next week.
“Republicans have a great economic message they can — and are trying to — run on. The birthright citizenship non-issue came out of nowhere and managed to further knock Republicans off message,” said Doug Heye, a GOP strategist and former spokesman for the Republican National Committee (RNC).
“Trump’s shot at Ryan came while he has been campaigning tirelessly for GOP candidates, and causes Republican candidates to then respond to the latest Trump tweet, instead of sticking to their campaign plan.”
Others agreed that the bickering was unhelpful, but ultimately predicted the “inside-the-Beltway dispute” wouldn’t have an impact, especially so close to Election Day.
The last time Trump attacked Ryan on Twitter was Oct. 16, 2016 — just weeks before Republicans won unified control of Washington.
“This argument is a sideshow and unhelpful, but most voters have made up their minds how they are going to vote,” said Ron Bonjean, a longtime Republican strategist and partner at Rokk Solutions. “Because this is a base election, GOP conservative voters remain energized going into the final stretch and aren’t going to sit this one out over an inside-the-Beltway dispute.”
The escalating tensions come as Democrats are feeling increasingly confident about their chances of taking back the House, citing Trump’s plunging approval rating, their mega fundraising numbers and a string of late district polls that have broke their way.
The Cook Political Report revised its election forecast on Wednesday to predict that Democrats would pick up 30 to 40 seats — up from 25 to 35 last month — though the handicapper noted that its projection could change again before Election Day. Democrats need to flip 23 seats to win back the House.
With the GOP on edge in the home stretch, Republicans are starting to lash out at one another.
The president, just six days before voters head to the polls, slammed Ryan on Twitter for dismissing his birthright citizenship plan and urged the retiring Speaker to focus on protecting the House majority.
Ryan made the comments while on the campaign trail stumping for 25 vulnerable House Republicans in 12 states.
“Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the Majority rather than giving his opinions on Birthright Citizenship, something he knows nothing about! Our new Republican Majority will work on this, Closing the Immigration Loopholes and Securing our Border!” Trump tweeted.
The broadside was interpreted by many on Capitol Hill as an effort by Trump to make Ryan a scapegoat should the GOP lose its House majority next week, though Ryan’s allies and Republican strategists scoffed at the notion.
“I’m pretty sure holding the majority is Trump’s problem now, not Ryan’s, and Trump has made that job much harder for himself with this move,” said GOP strategist Liz Mair.
Earlier in the week, another internal fight burst into public view after Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversTrump asks if Rand Paul has 'learned lesson' on endorsements Five takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE (R-Ohio), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), condemned King for his support of white nationalist candidates.
“Congressman Steve King’s recent comments, actions, and retweets are completely inappropriate,” tweeted Stivers, a member of Ryan’s leadership team. “We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior.”
The reprimand from the head of the House GOP’s campaign arm was remarkable, given that King’s race has grown increasingly competitive, with Cook now rating his once reliably red seat as “lean Republican.”
King, who placed his first TV ad buy on Thursday, was quick to fire back.
“These attacks are orchestrated by nasty, desperate, and dishonest fake news. Their ultimate goal is to flip the House and impeach Donald Trump,” he wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. “Establishment Never Trumpers are complicit."
While the spat has exposed internal tensions, some strategists believe that the campaign chairman’s willingness to stand up to King could actually be helpful for the party, especially as Trump battles accusations that his inflammatory rhetoric helped contribute to an ugly political climate that has turned violent.
But it has also ratcheted pressure on other Republicans to condemn King — an uncomfortable position for some candidates.
Further inflaming divisions among Republicans is Trump’s push to energize the base with hard-line immigration policies. The strategy, which includes stoking fear about a “caravan” of Central American migrants slowly headed for the U.S. border, could boost Senate GOP candidates, but hurt the party’s chances in key suburban swing districts in the House contest.
Trump escalated the rhetoric even further Tuesday when he announced a proposal to end citizenship for babies of noncitizens who are born on U.S. soil.
But the controversial plan rattled the GOP and was immediately met with pushback from members of Trump’s own party, from conservative hard-liners like House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteThe job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden MORE (R-Va.) to centrist Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloNation's fraught politics leads to fear, scars and exits Direct air capture is a crucial bipartisan climate policy Biden's corporate tax hike is bad for growth — try a carbon tax instead MORE (R-Fla.).
“Birthright citizenship is protected by the Constitution, so no @realDonaldTrump you can’t end it by executive order,” tweeted Curbelo, an outspoken Trump critic who is facing a fierce reelection battle. “What we really need is broad immigration reform that makes our country more secure and reaffirms our wonderful tradition as a nation of immigrants.”
Trump again sparked outrage on Wednesday when he touted a controversial immigration ad, which features clips from the expletive-laden trial of Luis Bracamontes, a deported Mexican man who returned to the U.S. and killed two sheriff’s deputies, alongside footage of the caravan.
Trump’s critics, including some Republicans, decried the ad as racist, while other GOP candidates like Curbelo avoided using the term while criticizing the messaging effort.
“This is a sickening ad. Republicans everywhere should denounce it,” tweeted Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (R-Ariz.), a frequent Trump critic who is retiring.
It’s hardly the closing argument — or picture of unity — that some in the party were hoping to project in the final days of the midterm election.
“I can’t imagine anybody in a close district wants the closing argument to be immigration,” retiring Rep. Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloRep. Brendan Boyle decides against Pennsylvania Senate bid Pennsylvania's Democratic lt. governor files to run for Senate Bottom Line MORE (R-Pa.) told a CNN reporter. “Your local message is in competition with what the president is talking about.”