Trump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars

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As the Conservative Political Action Conference meets in Florida this weekend, there is great joy among supporters of former President Donald Trump, who believe with reason that he controls the Republican Party, and equal joy among liberal Democrats and Democratic leaders, who believe with reason that Trump’s divisiveness and control of Republicans is a great gift to Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections.

Since Election Day 2020, Trump has been a combination of public relations disaster alienating the national electorate and highly effective political maneuvering intensifying his support from his large base — and thoroughly intimidating the Republican leaders in the House and Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went from giving Trump much blame for the sickening attack against the Capitol on Jan. 6, implying he might be subject to criminal prosecution, to announcing that he would “absolutely” support Trump if Republicans nominate him for president in 2024.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has similarly shifted from criticism of Trump for his actions on Jan. 6 to then visiting Trump to court his support for the 2022 midterms. 

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) went from voting to impeach Trump to predicting Trump will be nominated if he seeks the presidency in 2024.

Meanwhile other Republicans, such as Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, have been principled in their warnings about Trump being unable to generate significant grassroots GOP or conservative support.

This year’s CPAC is shaping up to be a massive Trump rally, where I expect to hear expressions of Trump grievances and attacks against those Trump treats as political enemies, including, most likely, some prominent Republicans.

One result of the CPAC meetings could be to generate a surge of Republican primaries in the 2022 midterms against members of the House and Senate who do not parrot the Trump line, though there are also likely to be many primary attacks against GOP members who march in lockstep behind Trump.

While the proceedings of the CPAC meetings may be an echo chamber of conservative support for Trump and attacks against Trump opponents, the message sent to the outside world will be at odds with significant public opinion majorities. This is why liberals and Democrats are just as excited by the CPAC meetings as Trump and his conservative supporters are — and why GOP leaders may be privately worried about the impact on the 2022 midterms.

Consider the following matters.

President Joe Biden is enjoying favorable ratings with American voters, while Republican leaders like McConnell have very low ratings.

While a majority of Americans want Democrats and Republicans to work together, and Biden is making some effort to achieve this, the CPAC meetings instead could cause a return to the divisive politics of the Trump years that voters just ended.

In addition, a majority of voters believe the 2020 presidential election was honest and legitimate. Trump and his supporters, on the other hand, believe the election was stolen from him. 

And while Biden and Democrats favor a large COVID-19 relief bill that is supported by a large majority of the public, Trump and most Republicans oppose it.

The CPAC meetings stand to help Trump in Republican nomination politics, but dangerously hurt the GOP in general election politics in the 2022 midterms.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Ben Sasse Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC Donald Trump Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney

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