The establishmentarian GOP is heading for the exits.
Ahead of what should be a strong midterm election cycle for the party out of power, incumbent Republican senators are retiring in conspicuous numbers. On Monday, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt announced that he will not seek another term in office next year. His statement follows retirements from his Republican colleagues in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Alabama—none of whom owe their careers or allegiances to the Republican Party’s ascendent populist wing.
Much of the political class has interpreted these abdications as a response to the likelihood that the GOP will continue to self-Trumpify for the foreseeable future. A cursory survey of the Republican Party’s obsequious displays of supplication before the former president even despite his hostility toward that institution would seem to support that conclusion.
Over the weekend, Donald Trump’s attorneys sent a shot across the Republican Party’s bow with a flurry of cease-and-desist letters directed at the GOP’s national, Senate, and congressional campaign committees. The former president threatened his party’s chief fundraising apparatuses with the demand that they stop using Donald Trump’s name or likeness when soliciting donations or selling merchandise.
That’s a significant escalation of tensions. Trump remains the party’s most popular figure among Republican voters. As of last month, Trump’s Political Action Committee had $105 million on hand—a haul he helped raise alongside the Republican National Committee amid his efforts to contest the 2020 election results and, eventually, insist that the race had been stolen from him. Trump has already announced his intention to deploy those resources in the effort to stoke intraparty feuds and finance primary challenges against Republican incumbents who failed to support that effort.
That’s bad news if you’re in the business of protecting incumbents, which the GOP’s committees most certainly are. Trump’s announcement is nothing short of a declaration of war. So, what has the RNC done in response? Sue for peace, of course.
On Monday, press reports revealed that the RNC had decided to move part of its spring donors’ retreat scheduled for next month to Donald Trump’s resort in Mar-a-Lago. Convention planners who spoke with the Washington Post offered a variety of unconvincing explanations for the move, but reporters also couldn’t help but notice that “Spending money at the club is also likely to curry favor with Trump…”
So, having received his taste, we can presume Trump and the Republican Party worked out their differences amicably. Right? Wrong.
Earlier that same day, Trump’s PAC sent out a short and sweet fundraising pitch affirming his intention to siphon off as much donor cash away from Republican lawmakers as possible. “No more money for RINOS,” the solicitation read. “They do nothing but hurt the Republican Party and our great voting base—they will never lead us to Greatness.”
“Send your donations to Save America PAC,” the email concluded. “We will bring it all back stronger than ever before.” That is the entirety of Trump’s pitch to donors. And maybe that is sufficient for people who don’t know or care what they’re supporting with their political contributions, but, presumably, donors to the Republican Party’s committees do. Or, maybe, they did. If there is any instinct for self-preservation left within these organizations, it has gone dormant.
If this recent sequence of events reads a little bit like a classic shakedown, that’s not your imagination. And that should trouble anyone with a vested interest in conventional Republican policy objectives—strengthening the national defense, preventing taxpayer dollars from being used to finance progressive culture wars, and putting downward pressure on the national credit card’s rising balance. But many of the party’s elected officials don’t seem interested in even arguing in favor of those objectives.
The imminent passage of the Democratic Party’s COVID-relief bill, for example, has presented the GOP with a variety of tantalizing messaging opportunities—most of which have been neglected. Buried under the bill’s more popular and arguably necessary provisions are a variety of giveaways to Democratic interest groups. Among them, a bribe directed at federal workers aimed at keeping their kids out of public schools, which also represents an incentive for administrators to maintain school closures; a delay in the relief bill’s disbursements designed (according to Sen. Mitt Romney) to artificially create a new, higher baseline for the federal budget; and a bailout for the city of San Francisco, erasing its budget deficit and forestalling a financial reckoning in the form of pared-back services and public sector layoffs.
The Trumpian wing of the party hasn’t displayed much inclination to educate the public on these matters, preferring instead to lean into abstract culture wars that have only a tangential relationship with the affairs of government. One has to wonder what the Republican Party’s donors think they’re getting with their contributions if it isn’t policies they support or the defense of the incumbents who might one day make up the backbone of new Republican congressional majorities. They might as well give their money directly to the Trump Organization and cut out the middleman.