Is the ‘civil war’ in the Republican Party really over?
Less than a month after President Trump left the White House and six weeks after the assault on the Capitol, political pundits are declaring that the civil war in the Republican Party is over — and that the GOP will continue to belong to Mr. Trump as long as he wants it.
More than 75 percent of Republicans, they note, want Trump to continue to play a prominent role in their Party. Often unanimous votes to censure Republicans who supported impeachment, including Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), demonstrate that Trump loyalists have a stranglehold on GOP state and county organizations.
Right now, Donald Trump is easily the most potent force in the Republican Party. His threat to see to it that anyone who criticizes him is “primaried” must be taken seriously. He has amassed a considerable war chest for future campaigns.
That said, as Yogi Berra, America’s preeminent philosopher, reminds us, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” And there’s good reason to believe the war will not be over until the election of 2022, the first real test of influence and power, at the earliest.
Although the party of the president usually loses seats in Congress in the midterms, Trump loyalists and critics understand that 2022 may be different. A recent poll indicates that 61 percent of independent voters, who now hold the balance of power in elections in the United States, do not want Trump to be able to run for office again. Republicans also fear that Democrats will do well in the general election if 1) President Biden delivers on vaccine distribution, a coronavirus relief package and economic recovery, 2) Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and other extremist officeholders and candidates become the face of the GOP, 3) Donald Trump does not find ways to engage, enrage and energize his base without a presidential platform, a Twitter feed and his own name on the ballot, and 4) investigations and litigation reveal damaging information about the former president.
These concerns help explain why some Republican leaders are acting as if there is, indeed, a civil war in their party.
Why else would Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — who wants nothing more than to resume his position as majority leader and worries that the retirements of Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) make Republican control of the Senate in 2022 an uphill climb — risk incurring Trump’s wrath by trying to have it both ways? After voting to acquit Trump in the impeachment trial, McConnell declared that Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the insurrection on Jan. 6, “no question about it.”
Why would Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) urge his fellow Republicans to unite behind Trump, claiming we “don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell” in 2022 without him? And then add that he was “more worried about 2022 than I’ve ever been. I don’t want to eat our own”?
Why would Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who is up for reelection in deeply red South Dakota in 2022, assert that in censuring Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, the former president’s GOP allies are engaging in “cancel culture”?
How to explain former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, a shrewd politician and possible aspirant for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, asserting that Trump “went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him”? She said, “We can’t let that happen again. … He’s not going to run for federal office again. I don’t think he’s going to be in our future.”
“A year is an eternity in politics,” said Eliot Spitzer, who resigned as governor of New York state just 14 months after he was inaugurated because of a prostitution scandal.
It’s worth remembering that six months before the 2020 Democratic National Convention, the press and pundits declared Joe Biden’s candidacy dead.
It is a pretty safe bet, then, that there will be many more twists and turns in the fortunes of the Republican Party — and the fortunes of the 45th president — in the months to come.
Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.