Washington Monthly | Will Republicans Cede Their Party to the Insurgents?

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Since Trump was elected, conventional wisdom has held that congressional Republicans will stick with him for two reasons: (1) they fear a backlash from his base of supporters, and (2) they need him to enact their agenda. As the 2018 midterms approach and the focus is all on the GOP’s pet issue of tax cuts, that would seem to be the case going forward.

Into that mix comes the recent statements critical of Trump by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Everyone with an ear to the ground in Washington says that he is simply stating out in the open what most congressional Republicans have been whispering behind closed doors.

Corker’s remarks have been validated by stories like the one in Politico yesterday that describes the lengths White House aides have to go to control the president’s outbursts. Take a look at how one of them described the situation to Washington Post reporters:

One Trump confidant likened the president to a whistling teapot, saying that when he does not blow off steam, he can turn into a pressure cooker and explode. “I think we are in pressure cooker territory,” said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.

Of course, none of this is new. All of us, including congressional Republicans, have been watching these cycles for the last nine months. But there is something new happening right now that could change the equation.

Steve Bannon left his position in the White House to wage war on congressional Republicans. He reiterated his intentions last night during an appearance with Sean Hannity.

Bannon said he is declaring “war” on the Republican establishment and those that don’t back what President Trump ran on. He said there is a “new game in town” and promised to “cut off the oxygen” to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and stop his fundraising for establishment candidates. Bannon said any person running for the Senate in 2018 that wants his support must oppose McConnell as the Republican Leader.

The Breitbart chief gave a warning to all incumbents: “Just voting is not good enough. You have to have a sense of urgency. Nobody is safe. We are coming after all of them and we’re going to win.”

What Bannon didn’t mention is that this is all part of the long game he’s playing in order to wrest control of the Republican Party away from the likes of McConnell and the Koch brothers. Once again, here is a reminder of what Adele Stan recently wrote about this struggle:

As Republican leaders fret over a possible loss of control of the Senate due to Bannon’s actions, they fail to notice that Bannon is not playing a short-term game for GOP majorities in Congress. Bannon’s game is one for control of the Republican Party writ large.

It’s clear that Mercer has no small amount of envy for the Koch brothers, the billionaire siblings whose will has largely shaped the GOP agenda as the party became ever more dependent on the political infrastructure built by the Kochs and the donor network they have cultivated over the course of decades. No longer insurgents, the Kochs and their political beneficiaries have become part of the GOP establishment…

Bannon and his patron Mercer, it seems, are willing to take their chances on the possible loss of the GOP’s narrow Senate majority if the gambit places Mercer in the kingmaker’s seat, supplanting the Koch brothers in that role.

All of a sudden congressional Republicans know that Bannon and Mercer are coming after them, regardless of how they’ve voted. They also know that this is no longer simply about putting up with Trump’s insanity for a few years. It is about the insurgents wresting away control of the entire GOP. We’re at that stage in the story where the monster is trying to kill Dr. Frankenstein.

I’m not going to pretend to understand how people like McConnell, Ryan and the rest of the congressional Republicans will process what is going on. But we’re already hearing a response from conservative commentators like Jennifer Rubin. Today, Bill Kristol published what might be his ode to the Republican Party in a piece titled, “A Republican Crackup?”

The GOP is now torn between demagogues who appeal to the lowest-common-denominator concerns of voters and establishment types who roam like zombies on a terrain they can no longer navigate, among citizens for whom they have little in the way of answers.

So what is the future of the Republican party? Who knows? Parties aren’t forever. It would be foolish to assume that citizens who believe in limited and constitutional government, in free markets and in American world leadership, will necessarily find their homes in the GOP. Those citizens may have to look beyond the party they’ve become accustomed to support.

There is a sense of resignation from both of these pundits. Rubin talks about finding a “new base” and Kristol refers to his cadre as “zombies on a terrain they can no longer navigate.” Perhaps they are content to see what happens in the 2018 midterms and/or the results of the Mueller investigation. It will be interesting to see whether or not congressional Republicans are willing to do the same and risk ceding their party to the insurgents.

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