Trump is dividing the GOP against itself in ways Republicans couldn't have imagined

Trump is dividing the GOP against itself in ways Republicans couldn't have imagined
Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell

Remember when Donald Trump won the election and everyone knew his presidency was going to be a disaster, but then it turned out to be a supercalifragilisticexpial-atrocious walk on the dark side, resulting in a record-breaking two impeachments along with a raging pandemic that had already claimed 400,000 American lives by the time he left office?

Even among those of us who knew Trump's tenure would be horrific, it was impossible to imagine both the depth and breadth of that horror.

That same phenomenon appears to be taking place in regard to Trump's takeover of the Republican Party. For reasons that are beyond comprehension by anyone with a lick of sense, Senate Republicans failed to seal Trump's political fate earlier this year by providing the votes to convict him during impeachment, which would have constitutionally banned him from ever holding federal office again.

That gave him a lifeline within the GOP even after his coup attempt and defeat at the ballot box. It may be years before we learn exactly why Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans fell 10 votes short of the 17 they would have needed to provide in order to doom Trump. Perhaps there simply wasn't the political will within the conference, or maybe they actually came to the strategic decision that not jettisoning him would prove better for the party electorally than cutting him loose entirely. If that was the case, it's worth remembering that they made that assessment having already suffered two stunning losses in the Georgia Senate runoffs, due in no small part to Trump's incessant election fraud lies depressing turnout among his most fervent supporters.

Whatever the case, Senate Republicans handed Trump that lifeline, and now we are just beginning to get a glimpse of how disastrous the move was for the party as a whole.

None of this is to say that Democrats are assured electoral victories in next year's midterms. Indeed, all historical trends suggest the opposite for a party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

But it is an assertion that Trump's continued presence in the party—and indeed total takeover of it—is already proving so much more deleterious than advantageous. It's something I've been writing about for months, and perhaps I shouldn't be amazed by the GOP's total collapse under Trump's thumb, but I must admit that I am. Trump is shaping an alarming number of Republicans' most critical congressional races by blessing the candidacies of those who most eagerly embrace his Big Lie about the 2020 election being stolen. Trump has also bulldozed Republicans in multiple swing states (Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) and Texas (!) to launch Arizona-style audits even after that hot mess hilariously confirmed Biden's win, and his push continues in other states (Michigan) at this very moment.

But Trump is also notching those successes by breaking state parties and pitting Republicans against themselves in almost every case. GOP infighting over whether the sham audits should proceed at all or are going far enough have broken out in almost every case, sometimes pitting Republican state lawmakers against each other (Michigan) or pitting them against local GOP officials (Arizona). Right now, in Nevada—a swing state with a key 2022 Senate race—the state GOP is in full meltdown mode, or a "civil war," as Politico framed it.

Against that backdrop, Trump issued this week what may be his most ominous statement to date—a threat to drive down turnout if Republicans didn't "solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020"—setting an impossible bar for every sitting Republican across the country.

Short of that, Trump said, "Republicans will not be voting in '22 or '24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do."

A CNN/SSRS poll this week asked respondents whether congressional Republicans and Democrats "deserve to be reelected." Predictably, the numbers weren't exactly great for either party, but they were positively terrible for Republicans, with just 37% of respondents saying they do deserve reelection and 63% saying they don't. (Democrats were 46% yes/54% no.)

But the real problem for Republicans is flagging support within their own party—including 35% of self-identified Republicans in the poll saying GOP members don't deserve reelection, and just 65% saying they do. (Democratic voters' assessment of their own members was better, with 20% saying their members don't deserve reelection and 80% saying they do.)

This internal GOP erosion of support continues to show in Civiqs tracking of support for the parties, where Republicans have never really regained their footing among their own voters since Election Day 2020. Similar to the CNN poll, just 66% of registered GOP voters have a favorable view of their own party.

Democrats, on the other hand, are mostly holding their own among their own voters with an 86% favorable rating.

It's worth noting, of course, that Republicans also experienced a sharp drop in confidence among their own voters shortly after the 2018 midterm elections, too. So yeah, the GOP could rebound.

But now congressional Republicans have Trump working against them every step of the way. And he will never be satisfied until he achieves total domination—including the full and unequivocal embrace of his 2020 election fraud lies by every GOP lawmaker across the country.

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