The current dilemma facing the Republican Party is the definition of being between a rock and a hard place.
On the one hand, the party establishment, along with most of America, hates Trump and wants/needs to get rid of him. On the other, most reliable Republican voters not only love him, but also hate the party establishment.
Beyond that, there is a group of Republican politicians looking to capitalize on the anti-establishment tendencies that Trump exposed in voters and ride those coattails to a more prominent place, potentially even a presidential nomination.
Meanwhile, it’s still unclear what the Democrats will do over the next four years which means that Republicans are rolling the dice with the future of their party.
However, before we can take a look at where the whole thing will end up, first a little background on the situation.
As far as Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party establishment are concerned, they want to be rid of Donald Trump as quickly as possible, and for good reason.
Not only did he lose a national election (something that’s almost impossible to come back from) but he’s also ruining the reputation of the Republican Party in the eyes of the undecided voters that are necessary to win elections.
Meanwhile, nearly all the reliable Republican voters still love Trump. They loved him as a candidate and, importantly, don’t think that he actually lost the election. They also absolutely hate the party itself. To them, the GOP represents the exact same swamp that Trump vowed to drain.
While the temptation is to ignore their wishes and dump Trump, knowing that those people will probably vote Republican no matter what, such a move would go against all political wisdom in addition to ignoring the current lack of trust amongst voters.
In politics you can never take votes for granted. This is especially true with Republican voters in 2021. Considering that 75% of Republican voters think the election was stolen, there is already a serious chance that they will stay home in coming elections, as we’ve written before. That risk only grows if a party that they only kind of tolerate were to kill off their hero.
Unfortunately for GOP elders, the party’s voters aren’t the their only headache, its members are too.
A lot of Republican politicians like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley have been falling over themselves to carry on Trump’s fight. Obviously not because they particularly care for his policies. After all, Cruz spent half of 2016 offering endless counterpoints to Trumpism. Rather, it’s just a power play.
They know just how much people love Trump, plus they want to be able to play the anti-establishment card.
Indeed, Trump’s war against the establishment was the defining feature of his campaign and got him votes across the board. In the past we’ve written extensively about the Sanders-Trump vote (people that went for Bernie in the primary and Trump in the general) and how telling it was that so many were willing to prioritize their dislike for the current system over all other politics.
That sentiment is just as strong in Republicans and could very well be crucial to winning the nomination.
Moreover, if Biden’s presidency is as disappointing for progressives as most people are expecting, then any candidate positioning themselves as anti-establishment going into 2024, regardless of their politics, might just have a shot at the presidency.
However, at this point it’s all theoretical. And while a lot is left to play out, it’s sure to follow a fairly predictable pattern.
McConnell and Co. seem to be fairly confident that the anti-establishment genie can be put back in its bottle. And it’s understandable why they would think that way.
Elections tend to be self-contained in that they rarely include issues from previous elections. Indeed, the biggest deciding factor is almost always public perception of the candidate’s characters. Meanwhile the second biggest factor is perception of the parties themselves.
Thus, if they can just put distance between them and Trump, do some rehab to the GOP’s image, and get a safe candidate then, by the time the next election comes around, they can go back to doing what they’ve always done — obstructing Democrats as much as possible in Congress and then scaring everyone into voting at election time.
Meanwhile, Cruz and his friends will be looking to publicly support Trump as well as exploit the anti-establishment sentiment. They’ve been vocal defending him during his second impeachment. Meanwhile, they’ve also backed big stimulus checks as well as adding more regulation to Wall Street (historically HUGE Republican no-no’s).
While it’s unlikely that Cruz would say too much directly against party leadership since he’s surely angling for a presidential run in 2024, one can easily expect some lesser politicians to openly criticize the other side of the party, like AOC did to Biden last year. After all, as the minority party, there’s not as much need for unity since the chance of passing any Republican legislation is practically zero.
That being said, it’s unlikely that the GOP will splinter as much as the mainstream media is saying. After all, they all hate Democrats far more than they hate each other. Rather, the current situation is about who will end up calling the shots in the party going forward.
What it all comes down to, and where the Cruz camp has a slight edge, is how far left the country goes in the next four years.
If Biden turns out to be all talk and no follow through on his more progressive promises (as he’s already turning out to be) then not only will legions of anti-establishment progressives be disappointed, and thus much more likely to support Cruz in protest, but McConnell’s strategy of opposing Democrats will seem to be a waste of time.
However, if tons of leftist policy is enacted, then the winner will be whoever opposed it most vociferously. In that light, Cruz and his ilk will be painted as accomplices and likely lose the primary in 2024, potentially even being challenged for their congressional seats by other Republicans.
None of their posturing matters if Republicans can’t convince their voters that elections are legitimate. Yet, surprisingly, they’ve done very little to ease those fears.
McConnell seems willing to put the whole thing behind him, hoping that time heals all wounds and that he can scare people enough that they will come out to vote no matter what.
Meanwhile, Cruz has every incentive not to make a big deal of it because telling people their vote doesn’t count is a horrible strategy to win an election.
So, while there will be plenty of tussles in the party to see who comes out on top in the 2024 primaries, the odds of winning the presidency anytime this decade are very slim.
Indeed, it would appear that, without some kind of major incompetence from the Democrats (always a distinct possibility), the Republican Party is in for a long period of mediocrity a la Dems in the 70’s and 80's.
Do you think McConnell’s playbook is outdated?