Talking Points

Republicans' divisions could be their midterm strength

News that the central committee of the Wyoming Republican Party narrowly voted (31-29) this weekend to stop recognizing Rep. Liz Cheney as a member of the GOP is hardly surprising. This is the second time her state party has rebuked her, and there have been similar moves by the Republican caucus in Congress. Cheney has loudly and repeatedly denounced former President Donald Trump's incitement of the Jan. 6 insurrection, and that is sufficient to render her radioactive.

But that doesn't mean the GOP has become a Trump-obsessed cult. It means only that directly attacking the former president is unacceptable. Short of that, a range of responses are possible — and that signals that the party remains divided.

Consider the case of Glenn Youngkin, who just won the governor's race in Virginia, a state where Joe Biden beat Trump by 10 points only a year ago. How did Youngkin do it? Not by bashing Trump, but by ignoring him whenever possible. The result was a campaign broadly continuous with the kind of race former President George W. Bush (or his vice president, Dick Cheney, Liz Cheney's father) might have run. That points to considerable continuity within the Republican Party over the past couple of decades.

But that kind of campaign wouldn't work in Wyoming, or in Arizona, where the GOP has, if anything, fallen even further down the rabbit hole of Trumpian conspiracy theorizing about stolen elections. There are plenty of deep-red House districts around the country where you need to prove yourself a fire-breathing lunatic to prevail. But there are plenty of other places (like Virginia) where such irresponsible antics will doom a candidate.

This division will serve as a strength for the GOP in the 2022 midterms, just as Democratic fissures separating progressives and moderates helped fuel gains for the party in the 2018 midterms. Dividing and conquering is usually a good strategy when there's no need for the party to settle on a single ticket. Candidates can make very different appeals to very different sets of voters.

The question is what the consequences of GOP division will be in 2024, when Republicans will need to settle on a standard-bearer. If Trump runs, it looks like he will easily prevail in that contest. That will make many Republicans happy. But in the general election, will Youngkin voters pull the lever for Trump in greater numbers than they did in 2020? I doubt it — unless loathing for Biden (or whichever Democrat runs instead) holds the GOP together as effectively as hatred for Trump did for Democrats in last year's vote.

Both major parties are marked by division. And both increasingly have only negative partisanship to overcome it.