Republicans face an identity crisis
Republicans are divided into two factions over the role that Donald Trump should have in the party moving forward. After a second impeachment in which his acquittal was by all measures determined before the trial even started, Republicans have now diverged over how much influence Trump should have, especially when it comes to political campaigns.
Republican voters tend to support his future involvement in the party. A new survey from Morning Consult found a majority of Republican voters said that Trump should play a significant role in the party. It has become clear that Trump will remain a dominant force to reckon with in the 2022 midterms and beyond, even if his adult children do not run for the Senate. This does not bode well for Republicans, given their current divisions and evident inability to craft another narrative separate from Trump.
Given these fractures, Joe Biden and Democrats have a key opportunity to push forward a moderate agenda and broaden their coalition by appealing to moderate Republicans. Trump and his political allies were emboldened by the result of the impeachment trial, while backlash against the Senate Republicans who voted to convict Trump was swift and certain.
Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Richard Burr of North Carolina were censured by their state party leaders. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Susan Collins of Maine are on the verge of being censured in their home states. Though some Senate Republicans, notably Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, are seeking to shift the party in another direction and move away from Trump, others such as Lindsey Graham have continued to embrace him.
McConnell declared that Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events” of the Capitol riot, to which Trump responded by calling McConnell a “sullen and unsmiling political hack.” McConnell tried to reconcile his decision not to convict Trump with his decision to blame him by saying a former official cannot be tried for impeachment. It is worth noting that McConnell deliberately chose not to bring the Senate back in session to allow Trump to be tried while in office. Yet McConnell has suggested that Trump could still face criminal indictment.
Other Republicans such as Graham have lauded Trump. Several former Republicans have also spoken about breaking away from the party and forming a new party. A recent analysis by the New York Times also found that tens of thousands of formerly registered Republicans all around the country have already decided to switch their party affiliations.
So Republicans now face a severe identity crisis which gives Democrats an opportunity to reach out to moderate Republicans and push forward a more moderate agenda. In the campaign, Biden promised to work across the aisle to get things done. But his slew of executive orders and actions sends a signal that he is falling into the current climate of division rather than trying to solve it. Further, if Democrats pass a coronavirus relief bill through reconciliation, which only needs a majority in Congress, that will reveal the limits of their willingness to work with Republicans.
The administration has been talking to some moderate Republicans on a relief package. However, a deal has yet to be reached. The key is to direct additional aid where it is needed the most and then phase it out when the economy is stable. Democrats should focus and leave those trojan horse policies in the bill, like the $15 minimum wage, for a later day.
Republicans are in a crisis during which Democrats can push a moderate agenda and grow their coalition. It remains to be seen if Democrats seize this moment and endeavor to work across the aisle with Republicans, or if they will let the liberal wing push the party further to the left.
Douglas Schoen is a political consultant who has served as adviser to Bill Clinton and to the campaign of Michael Bloomberg. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”
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