GOP in disarray
May 5, 2021

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.p) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), the top two House Republicans, are backing Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) to replace Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) in the No. 3 leadership spot, GOP Conference chair, Punchbowl News reported early Wednesday. McCarthy backed Cheney in an earlier purge attempt but is now publicly signaling he wants her out of leadership.

Stefanik, who gained national prominence defending former President Donald Trump during his first impeachment hearing, has also gotten public backing from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a McCarthy ally, and as "momentum began to build for Stefanik on Tuesday," a top male contender dropped out, Politico reports. Stefanik, 36, "has been calling her colleagues to talk about her interest in the job and garner support, though her supporters believe she's wary of looking eager to knife Cheney."

"Aside from Cheney, McCarthy's leadership team is almost entirely comprised of white men," and "dumping Cheney has created a potentially embarrassing situation for Republican leaders" trying to project a big-tent image for 2022, The Hill reports. Some of the men gunning for the promotion aren't thrilled about the identity politics. "Many in the conference are offended being told that we are ineligible because we are men," one House Republican told The Hill.

Other Republicans and conservative allies argue that ousting Cheney for pushing back against Trump's lie that he won the election is bad politics and bad form. "Every person of conscience draws a line beyond which they will not go: Liz Cheney refuses to lie," Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) tweeted.

Romney's nod probably won't help Cheney among House Republicans, but The Wall Street Journal editorial page also criticized the move. "Trump lost even as Republicans gained 12 seats in the House," and "Republicans should find a way to speak this truth to voters in 2022," the Journal said in a Tuesday night editorial. "Purging Liz Cheney for honesty would diminish the party."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), meanwhile, mocked her GOP counterparts for trying to swap Cheney with a "non-threatening female." Cheney's job is at risk, Pelosi said, "for a litany of very Republican reasons: she won't lie, she isn't humble enough, she's like a girlfriend rooting for the wrong team, and more." That last jab, about the girlfriend, is based on a real quote. Peter Weber

April 14, 2021

President Biden isn't exactly coated in political Teflon, but he's "well regarded by voters" and "even Donald Trump, the Triumph the Insult Comic Dog of electoral politics, has had troubles landing a punch," Sam Stein writes at Tuesday's Politico Nightly. "His latest nickname for the president — 'Saintly Joe Biden' — was debuted to donors over the weekend. It was meant as derisive … we think."

But the bigger concern for the Republican Party, and a future Trump restoration campaign, is the lack of any real "grassroots movement emerging to confront the White House," Stein reports, noting that the Tea Party was already in full swing at this point in Barack Obama's presidency. "Biden’s perceived benignness — the difficulty in actually getting people to despise the guy" — is one reason, he argues, but the other big factor is Trump himself.

Proto-Tea Partier former Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) and other Republicans told Politico that "a movement like the Tea Party emerges when people galvanize around ideas. When they galvanize around an individual, they're really just waiting for that individual to act or guide them. Put another way: While the Tea Party exploited a GOP leadership vacuum in 2009, there is a need for a vacuum in 2021." And "that may very well be the gift that Trump has given Biden," Stein said. "As the former president sits in Mar-a-Lago, plotting his next move, he has brought stasis to the Republican Party." Read more at Politico. Peter Weber

April 13, 2021

Republicans have a shot at winning the House and/or Senate in 2022, and President Trump may well run for president again in 2024, so in theory, Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), restored to majority leader, "could be back serving together in fewer than four years," Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine write at Politico. "But not if Trump keeps calling McConnell a 'dumb son of a bitch' and a 'stone-cold loser," as he did Saturday, in a widely panned speech before Republican donors.

"Hopefully there will be some sort of truce," Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), McConnell's No. 2, said Monday. "It's in everybody's best interest — including the former president, if he wants to continue to stay viable politically — to help us win the majority in 2022." Instead, Trump released another statement Monday night accusing McConnell of being too weak to "fight for the presidency" and, more stingingly, "fight for the court."

"The feud is mostly one-sided as of late," Burgess and Levine concede. "McConnell barely utters Trump's name these days and has no communication with the former president." But the rapprochement would have to be one-sided, too, Politico's Playbook explains:

Trump demands loyalty and doesn't give it in return. So even though it's Trump taking potshots — not McConnell — peace would require McConnell to do what House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and NRSC Chair Rick Scott (R-Fla.) have done in recent days: grovel. Scott over the weekend awarded Trump some sort of "NRSC Champion for Freedom Award" to butter him up. But can McConnell really stomach doing something like that after Jan. 6? [Politico]

Well, "if there's one thing that motivates McConnell more than anything, it's being majority leader," Playbook argues. "So perhaps a little ring-kissing will seem worth it if it's the price of taking back the Senate. Or not." Read more about the politics of a McConnell-Trump detente at Politico. Peter Weber

March 9, 2021

Former President Donald Trump's lawyers sent the Republican National Committee and other GOP groups cease-and-desist letters on Friday, ordering them to stop using his name and image in their fundraising materials. The National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee ignored the letter, and the RNC formally rejected Trump's request on Monday afternoon.

The RNC "has every right to refer to public figures as it engages in core, First Amendment-protected political speech," chief counsel Justin Riemer told Trump attorney Alex Cannon in Monday's letter, "and it will continue to do so in pursuit of these common goals." On Monday night, Trump's Save America PAC sent an email to supporters urging them to steer their donations to his PAC and give "no more money for RINOs."

"The dust-up represents a rare break between the Trump team and the RNC," which, led by Trump loyalist Ronna McDaniel, worked almost seamlessly with Trump's campaign during the 2020 election, Politico notes. "But as he plots out his plans to exact revenge on his perceived Republican enemies in the 2022 midterm elections, the former president has begun to assert greater control over how his name is used to generate fundraising dollars."

Trump, publicly mulling another presidential run in 2024, "has expressed annoyance at McDaniel's continued public comments that she will be neutral in the race," The Washington Post reports. And anxious "about how Trump plans to use his influence in the 2022 midterms," the RNC "is moving part of its spring donor retreat next month to Mar-a-Lago, from a nearby hotel. for a dinner speech" headlined by Trump.

The RNC will pay Trump's club for the use of his facilities and the meal, the Post adds. And it is not alone. Alabama GOP Senate hopeful Lynda Blanchard is renting Mar-a-Lago for a $2,900-a-head campaign fundraiser on Saturday, Politico reports, and that doesn't even get her Trump's endorsement in the race. Peter Weber

February 5, 2021

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) doesn't really care if the Nebraska Republican Party censures him for his lack of fealty to former President Donald Trump, he said in a video Thursday evening. The state GOP's central committee will vote on a "Resolution of Censure" against Sasse at its Feb. 13 meeting, News Channel Nebraska reported earlier Thursday. His listed offenses include "stated support of the impeachment" of Trump and "defamatory public statements" against Republican senators who challenged President Biden's electoral votes.

Sasse ostensibly directed his response to the state central committee, but his video also served as a sort of manifesto for traditional Republicanism against the ascendant pro-Trump wing of the party. Few Nebraska voters "are as angry about life as some of the people on this committee," he said, adding, "Political addicts don't represent most Nebraska conservatives."

"Something has definitely changed over the last four years, but it's not me," Sasse said. "Personality cults aren't conservative. Conspiracy theories aren't conservative. Lying that an election has been stolen, it's not conservative. Acting like politics is a religion? It isn't conservative." The Jan. 6 siege happened because Trump "lied to you" and because he "riled a mob that attacked the Capitol — many chanting 'hang Pence,'" Sasse said. He continued:

Nebraskans aren't rage addicts — and that's good news. You are welcome to censure me again, but let's be clear about why this is happening: It's because I still believe, as you used to, that politics isn't about the weird worship of one dude. The party could purge Trump skeptics. But I'd like to convince you that not only is that civic cancer for the nation, it's just terrible for our party. [Sen. Ben Sasse]

Sasse would be only the latest Republican censured back home for being insufficiently pro-Trump. Peter Weber

January 11, 2021

President Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had a "tense, 30-minute-plus phone call" Monday morning, during which Trump ranted about election fraud and McCarthy cut him off, saying: "Stop it. It's over. The election is over," Axios reported Monday night, citing a White House official and another source familiar with the call.

Trump also tried to deflect responsibility for his role in inciting a deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday, telling McCarthy "antifa people" were responsible for the violence, Axios reports. McCarthy reportedly shot back: "It's not Antifa, it's MAGA. I know. I was there." Conservative cable news and other media has tried to pin the blame for the insurrection on leftist groups, antifa specifically, though there's clear and documented evidence the violence was perpetrated by Trump supporters, QAnon conspiracists, and far-right militia groups.

McCarthy also told his House GOP caucus on Monday that there is "indisputably" no evidence of antifa involvement in the Capitol siege, Axios reported, adding that as he tries "to navigate how to bridge the factions within the party," McCarthy "is treading carefully by telling members Trump is partially to blame for what happened without condemning him outright."

McCarthy told House Republicans on the two-hour call that Trump accepts some responsibility for the siege, too, Politico reports, citing four GOP sources on the call. Trump has not publicly taken any responsibility for the assault, even though he urged the supporters to march to the Capitol and fight for him. Emotions are "still running high in the conference," with many GOP members blaming McCarthy and his top lieutenant, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), for going along with the 120 House Republicans who continued challenging President-elect Joe Biden's win even after the riots, Politico says.

One freshman Republican, Rep. Nancy Mace (S.C.) said on the call she's "disappointed" that "QAnon conspiracy theorists" are not only leading the party, but also led the objections after members of Congress had to walk by a crime scene to get back to work Wednesday night, Politico reports. And Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), one of a handful of House Republicans weighing voting to impeach Trump, slammed Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) for tweeting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calf.) location during the siege, putting all members at risk. Boebert raised hackles on the call by suggesting Capitol Police had been involved in the siege, Politico says. Peter Weber

January 4, 2021

"As the new Congress was sworn in Sunday, the Republican Party splintered badly as at least 12 senators planned to join about 140 House members to contest Joe Biden's election win," Politico reports. "The tensions are so high that individual GOP senators are now directly battling" in "open warfare against each other." While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is asking his caucus to accept President Trump's loss, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is reportedly giving his GOP colleagues the green light to object to the Electoral College results on Wednesday.

McCarthy's predecessor, former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), urged Republicans to knock it off in a rare public statement Sunday. "Efforts to reject the votes of the Electoral College and sow doubt about Joe Biden's victory strike at the foundation of our republic," Ryan said. "It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act," and "the fact that this effort will fail does not mean it will not do significant damage to American democracy." Trump has "had ample opportunity to challenge election results, and those efforts failed from lack of evidence," he added. "Joe Biden's victory is entirely legitimate."

Also on Sunday evening, all 10 living former defense secretaries signed an op-ed in The Washington Post affirming Biden's victory and warning that the military should not be dragged into Trump's effort to contest his loss. The signatories include James Mattis and Mark Esper, who served under Trump, as well as conservative stalwarts like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Cheney, who was also vice president for eight years, came up with the idea for the joint statement, said William Perry, former President Bill Clinton's defense secretary.

"American elections and the peaceful transfers of power that result are hallmarks of our democracy," the defense secretaries said. "Our elections have occurred. Recounts and audits have been conducted. Appropriate challenges have been addressed by the courts. Governors have certified the results. And the electoral college has voted. The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the Electoral College votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived."

Chuck Hagel, a Republican who served as defense secretary under President Barack Obama, told the Post he considered whether warning about military intervention was an overreaction, but decided it was better to nip the idea, raised by some close Trump allies, in the bud. Peter Weber

December 23, 2020

"The GOP is plunging into open warfare over President-elect Joe Biden's election victory" and President Trump's "increasing embrace of conspiracy theorists as the defeated president and his most ardent allies continue to plot efforts to subvert the outcome of the Nov. 3 election," The Washington Post reports. "Advisers and allies who have called Trump to check in or wish him a merry Christmas have been encouraged to go on TV and fight for him amid complaints that others are not doing so."

Two Trump allies, veteran GOP strategist Karl Rove and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), did go on Fox News on Tuesday, but not to back Trump's election fraud conspiracies or the most prominent figures enabling him, fringy lawyer Sidney Powell and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Trump is "intrigued" by Powell's conspiracies, one person told the Post, but others around him are telling him "it's crazy and she has no idea what she's talking about."

Flynn's suggestion to send the military to force a handful of states to redo their elections is "an idiotic idea," Rove told Fox's John Roberts. "There's no ability for any president to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1803, claiming that the issue has got to do with the hubbub around the election." Flynn is "at the bottom of the list" of people who should be advising Trump about politics, he added, and as for Powell, "what she has done to sort of throw mud on the president through her antics is unbelievable," Rove added. "The president has been so ill-served by this crowd, and she's chief among them."

Christie agreed about Flynn and told Fox News' Martha MacCallum that the push by Powell and her allies to try to overturn Biden's win "is a very, very dangerous thing." Peter Weber

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