Anti-Trump Republicans Diverge on 2022 Midterms
Disaffected conservatives broke with their party to oust a sitting president. Some still hope to have a say in the G.O.P.’s future.,
Disaffected conservatives broke with their party to oust a sitting president. Some still hope to have a say in the G.O.P.’s future.
For those Republicans who dare to publicly oppose Donald J. Trump, politics can be a lonely place.
Both Jeff Flake, the former Senator from Arizona, and Cindy McCain, the widow of Senator John McCain, landed ambassadorships in the Biden administration, but has anyone heard from the former senator from Tennessee, Bob Corker, lately? As for the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last year, the former president has succeeded in pushing them out, or else frightened most of the rest into silence, with the fates of a few others — notably, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming — yet to be written.
As for the broader network of disaffected Republican strategists and activists who worked to defeat Trump in 2020, the upcoming midterms are highlighting a conundrum: With Trump not on the ballot, what should they be doing in 2022?
Some still hope to change the Republican Party from within, while others have determined that the entire institution has become a danger to American democracy. Many are increasingly frustrated, too, with the direction of the Democratic Party and the Biden administration, and have peppered their new allies with advice, both publicly and privately.
The result is a Never Trump movement that finds itself splintered as the election season begins, with various groups pursuing their own strategies and no discernible central organizing hub.
“I think there’s a fair amount of burnout, to be honest,” said Geoffrey Kabaservice, a historian of the Republican Party and vice president of political studies at the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank. Many disaffected Republicans, he added, are “retreating into their cocoons.”
The G.O.P.’s congressional leaders, Representative Kevin McCarthy and Senator Mitch McConnell, have toggled between enabling and resisting Trump to various degrees — leading to competing assessments of whether they should be returned to power.
Sarah Longwell, a prominent anti-Trump strategist, described her approach to 2022 as “a little from Column A and a little from Column B.” Her group, the Republican Accountability Project, is planning to raise and spend $40 million to bolster “pro-democracy” Republicans and target candidates who say the 2020 election was stolen.
Others have decided to focus on supporting Democrats outright, making the argument that a Republican Party led by Trump must be defeated before it can be rebuilt.
“People are taking the fight in different directions, and that’s OK,” said Mike Madrid, a co-founder of the defunct Lincoln Project, which supported Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. “Nobody in the Never Trump movement has any idea how this plays out.”
The change agents
Christine Todd Whitman, a former governor of New Jersey, is one of the Never Trumpers who have decided to try boosting centrist Republicans — a vanishing breed in a party still dominated by Trump and his allies.
Whitman is a co-chair of States United Democracy Center, a bipartisan effort to counter Trump’s attempts to subvert elections, and an adviser to the Renew America Movement, another anti-Trump group led by Miles Taylor, who wrote an anonymous Op-Ed essay in The New York Times while serving as a Department of Homeland Security official in the Trump administration.
“I’m a Republican, and so I’m hoping that we’re going to be successful in primaries,” Whitman said in an interview, referring to her fellow centrists. Her hope, she added, was to help elect enough moderate Republicans to “give backbone to some of those who want to stand up and just are so afraid of party leadership.”
The Senate, however, where Democrats have a stronger chance of preserving their majority, is a different story. There, she’s working to help Democrats “at least so they can push back against some of the worst, the most egregious things that are going to happen in the House,” she explained. In Arizona, for example, she plans to support Senator Mark Kelly, the Democratic incumbent.
Asked if she wants Republicans to win congressional majorities, Whitman said, “If we’re going to see the dominance of the far right, no.”
Frustration with Democrats
Several anti-Trump Republicans expressed exasperation with the left wing of the Democratic Party, which they believe misunderstands the political moment and too often embraces causes, such as defunding the police, that poll badly with swing voters.
“I think there’s a lot of angst out there about the Democrats,” said Charlie Sykes, the founder and editor-at-large at The Bulwark, which has become a congregating ground for anti-Trump commentators and activists.
In recent months, Sykes and like-minded conservatives have grown despondent over President Biden’s dismal poll numbers and other issues, such as New York City granting noncitizens the right to vote. They have urged Democrats to return to the middle-of-the-road approach that won them the White House in 2020.
Describing his message to Democrats, Sykes said: “We are trying to give you tough love because the next two elections are not going to be decided in Burlington, Vt., or the faculty lounge at Oberlin,” the liberal arts college in Ohio. “The fate of democracy is not going to be decided by the MSNBC green room,” he added.
Sykes and others fear Republicans and right-leaning independents who voted for Biden last fall will become similarly disillusioned, and usher Trump’s enablers in Congress back to power in November.
“Democrats have been renting their loyalty,” Kabaservice, the Republican historian, said of Republican voters who supported Biden. “They don’t own them.”
The inside play
Mike Duhaime, a Republican strategist who has been critical of Trump, argued that abandoning the G.O.P. is shortsighted. “By walking away from the party, you lose influence on what the party is going to look like,” he said.
One point in favor of supporting fellow Republicans is to take advantage of the possibility that voters might sour on Trump, said David Weinman, executive director of An America United, an advocacy group founded by supporters of Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland.
“Obviously, Trump still has a stranglehold on the party, but things can change quite quickly in politics, in ways you don’t always expect,” Weinman said.
It’s too early to say what sort of Republican Party the G.O.P.’s expected takeover of the House might yield. A large class of new freshman Republicans, some speculated, might dilute the influence of pro-Trump members like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and strengthen more moderate lawmakers.
Madrid, the Lincoln Project co-founder, described that view as delusional, however. He favors maintaining Democrats in power until the pro-Trump fervor in the G.O.P. subsides.
Wait too long to exorcise Trumpism from the Republican Party, he said, and “it’s going to get harder to dig the tick out of the body.”
What to read
The Supreme Court blocked President Biden’s vaccine mandate for large employers, though it allowed the administration to require health care workers at facilities receiving federal money to be vaccinated. Adam Liptak dissects the ruling.
In a blow to Biden’s agenda, Senator Kyrsten Sinema said she opposed making an exception to the filibuster to pass federal voting rights legislation. “While I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country,” the Arizona Democrat said.
The panel investigating the events of Jan. 6 is weighing whether to compel Representative Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, to testify. “Congressional investigators have rarely confronted a situation that carries such hefty stakes for their institution,” Luke Broadwater and Charlie Savage write.
The F.B.I. arrested Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers militia, on charges of seditious conspiracy for his involvement in the Capitol riot. It’s the first time that prosecutors have invoked “sedition,” Alan Feuer and Adam Goldman note. Last January, Jennifer Schuessler wrote a helpful explainer on the term.
Maggie Haberman reports that the Republican National Committee is preparing to break with the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Harry S. Truman could relate.
During one particularly difficult stretch of his presidency, in July 1946, Truman unloaded his frustrations in a letter to his mother and sister.
“Had the most awful day I’ve ever had Tuesday,” he began. “Saw somebody every fifteen minutes on a different subject, held a Cabinet luncheon and spent two solid hours discussing Palestine and got nowhere. Today’s been almost as bad but not quite.”
Several days later, he sent another lament to his wife, Bess, back in his native Missouri. “I still have a number of bills staring me in the face,” Truman began, before going into detail on some of his legislative headaches. “It sure is hell to be President.”
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