Conflict Within the GOP

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Within today’s Republican Party the most hotly contested question concerns what role, if any, should President Trump play in the GOP’s future. Trump’s allies, such as South Carolina’s Senator Lindsey Graham, say the GOP need’s Trump’s leadership to win future elections against the Democrats.  But skeptics say his continued leadership will doom the GOP to continued defeats.  No matter which side prevails, the Democrats could well be the big winners.  What the GOP can do to help itself is not yet clear.

The most public conflict within today’s GOP concerns whether Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney should be allowed to retain her position as Chair of the House Republican Conference and hence third in the GOP House leadership structure after Leader Kevin McCarthy and Whip Steve Scalise.  She is currently being challenged for that position by New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik.  Of the two, Cheney has a more conservative voting record than Stefanik and has voted more often to support Trump’s legislative initiatives—the Wall, for example, and tax cuts—than Stefanik has.  But Cheney voted to impeach Trump following the January 6 Capitol Riot.  Stefanik now presents herself as a loyal supporter of Trump.  House Republicans may vote this week on whether to replace Cheney with Stefanik.  The outcome of their contest remains to be seen, although most news stories say Stefanik has the support of McCarthy and Scalise, and is rapidly picking up support from other GOP representatives as well.  They’re predicting a Stefanik victory.

And no matter who wins the Cheney-Stefanik contest, conflict will continue in other forums as well.  Cheney, Mitt Romney, and other members of Congress who supported Trump’s impeachment and removal are being censured by their states’ party organizations.  Pro-Trump Republicans are preparing to challenge many anti-Trump Republicans in 2022’s GOP congressional primaries.  Trump is personally helping to find a candidate to challenge Cheney herself next year.

Regardless of who wins the primaries, the GOP will almost certainly go into the general election weaker than it would have been without the current conflicts.  Among Republican voters, Trump supporters are among the most numerous—about 70% of today’s Republicans support his contention that Joe Biden didn’t legitimately win the Presidency—most enthusiastic, and therefore the most likely to vote and thereby select pro-Trump congressional nominees for the general election.  Yet could these primary winners more easily defeat their Democratic opponents?  Possibly.  Yet their pro-Trump stance may alienate enough general election voters—including both anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats too—to throw the election to the Democrats.  Result:  More Democratic victories, and less chance of the GOP winning back the Congress.

But what if anti-Trump Republicans like Cheney do manage to win their primaries?  They might have more appeal to moderate Democrats and independents in general elections.  But pro-Trump Republicans may not care enough to go to the polls to support them in the general election.  Advantage:  Democrats.

And no matter who wins the GOP’s primaries, so much time, money, and energy may be spent, and so many interpersonal relations may be ruined, that the resources for successful general election campaigns may be too depleted for victory.   Again—Advantage:  Democrats.

So what can be done?

Currently, President Biden’s programs, both proposed and enacted, are proving popular with the American people.  Yet public opinion could sour as the costs of his proposals and the prospect of higher taxes to pay for them become more apparent.  After all, the public perceptions of Democratic overreach in the first two years of the Clinton and Obama administrations helped propel Republicans to victories in the midterms of 1994 and 2010.

Moreover, the development and adoption of better get-out-the-vote strategies and technology may produce more GOP voters too.  Past technological developments have been used successfully by both Republicans and Democrats.

But the most effective ways to reduce conflict in the Republican Party must begin with better understanding of the reasons for the conflict in the first place.  That, of course, is far, far easier said than done.  The demographic groups most likely to support Trump—White Christian conservatives, White men in general—are shrinking as a percentage of the total population.  Many are said to feel marginalized, ridiculed, humiliated, and left behind.  Some strategies—promoting economic growth, working for a color-blind society—may be helpful.  As the conflicts within the GOP continue, we’ll try to take a better look at how pursuit of these policies and others may bolster the GOP.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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