The Future of the Republican Party
On June 16, 1858, Republicans from across Illinois gathered to nominate their candidate for the United States Senate. A little-known lawyer named Abraham Lincoln proclaimed in his acceptance speech that “a house divided against itself can not stand”.
Lincoln took a stand on the foremost issue of his age - the question of slavery. Today’s Republican Party finds itself at similar crossroads. The party has seemingly split into two - the pro-Trump wing, led by newly elected Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and the “establishment” wing, led by No. 3 House Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming. Both wings seek to continue the policy of former President Trump - the difference lies in their politics. Greene wishes to continue in the Trumpian mold of amplifying conspiracy theories and divisive rhetoric. On the contrary, Cheney wishes to restore the party to the pre-Trump era - a time where Republicans pursued right-wing policies without giving voice to falsehoods and demagoguery.
It is this divide that current Republican leaders must navigate, as they attempt to chart their course in the post-Trump era. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California was recently confronted with this choice. As much of Greene’s past rhetoric became public (including her harassment of school shooting victims and support for the execution of numerous high profile Democrats), many Republicans demanded her removal from the House, or at least her expulsion from committees. Similarly, Cheney faced retaliation for her decision to support the second impeachment of President Trump following the Capitol insurrection. McCarthy had to make a decision - support Cheney and risk angering the pro-Trump wing of his caucus, or support Greene and lose the support of moderates and Republican donors (most of whom have expressed outrage over Greene’s remarks). McCarthy instead did both - he supported Greene (who was stripped of her committee assignments by Democrats anyway) and simultaneously backed Cheney to maintain her leadership role.
This decision has several implications. It is clear that the 2022 midterm elections will be a referendum on President Biden’s policies and handling of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. McCarthy is betting that a united Republican front will be better equipped to attack Democrats and better positioned to retake the House. This is true, since midterm elections have historically favored the party not holding the White House. However, the Republican coalition is tenuous at best, and even if the party returns to power in the House, it will face several difficult choices when it is actually forced to govern.
McCarthy is holding the fragile Republican caucus together with duct tape - the question of when it comes apart is not if, but when. The reckoning facing the Republican Party has not been averted; it has merely been postponed.