Is the civil war that commentators have regularly been predicting for decades finally taking place in the GOP?
The commentator R. Emmett Tyrell wrote a book after the Reagan era called The Conservative Crackup, but it never happened. But the stakes are now much higher than they were in the aftermath of the Reagan era, when George. H.W. Bush antagonized conservatives by raising taxes after he had vowed he would not. In the aftermath of the Trump presidency, a battle over the future of the GOP is erupting.
On the one side are those aligned with Trump. On the other is the NeverTrump faction who want to target his allies. And then there are those who are trying to split the difference between the two camps.
Thus House minority leader Kevin McCarty made a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to visit Donald Trump, where he tried to mend fences with the former president and persuade him to defer from attacking fellow Republicans. Trump himself seems to have cooled on the idea of establishing a third political party, but his own plans remain unclear, including whether or not he decides to run for a new term.
In Washington, however, tempers are rising. The ten House Republicans who backed Donald Trump’s impeachment are now facing brutal backlash from the former president’s supporters, putting members of the GOP into seething political combat in the post-Trump era. Pro-Trump Republicans launched a spate of 2022 primary challenges against the incumbents, state and local level political operatives condemned the voters on breaking with the former president and several major Trump-related donors cut monetary ties with the ten Members of Congress.
Those energized for revenge against pro-impeachment Republicans signals a larger test of Trump’s pinnacle of power over the GOP and whether it can last until next year, considering his exclusion from social media platforms and upcoming impeachment trial.
“The stance taken by Liz was very contentious here in Wyoming,” Bryan Miller told Politico, a retired Air Force officer and Republican chairman in Wyoming’s Sheridan County who said he plans to run against Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), an impeachment backer, in the 2022 primary. “This isn’t going to be a passing thing that just goes away. It’s growing and growing and growing every day across the state. People are unhappy.”
Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, will also face another primary battle, as state Sen. Anthony Bouchard plans to join the race for her chamber seat.
Some Republicans on Capitol Hill have condemned Cheney for voting to impeach Trump, pushing for the congresswoman to resign from her leadership post. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) held a rally with local Wyoming Republicans to urge her to step down from leadership but Gaetz pressed that he does “not want her job.”
“I unequivocally am not seeking a position in House Leadership. I also know Wyoming can do better,” Gaetz added.
Washington Reps. Dan Newhouse and Jaime Herrera Beutler faced disapproval from the state’s Republican Central Committee when it passed a resolution blasting the duo for voting to impeach Trump and expressed “particular disappointment” in them. And Hossein Khorram, a Washington-state based former finance committee official under the Trump administration, said he was cutting off funds to the two lawmakers, as he’s previously donated to Newhouse.
The Clark County Republican Women’s Group wrote to Herrera Beutler on January 13 that she would never see support from the group again and that it would be recruiting a primary challenger.
“We will do everything in our power as the largest Republican Women’s organization in Washington state to recruit and elect a conservative candidate who will represent our values,” the group wrote.
The early initiatives to oust the ten lawmakers from the Hill indicates a devoted loyalty that Republicans still have for the former president and urgency to seek vengeance over members of the GOP who voted for impeachment.
“I’m not surprised that the Republicans who voted for impeachment are facing significant blowback. The loudest, most active part of the GOP base remains staunchly supportive of [President] Trump,” Jonathan Krasno, political science professor at Binghamton University, said. “I don’t expect that change by 2022.”
It’s also too early to tell how much of a role Trump and his close allies will play in the widespread effort to scatter Trump-like lawmakers across the country. The New York Times reported that the former president’s main target is Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who rejected Trump’s efforts to overturn the state’s election results since they were based on false claims of voter fraud. Trump reportedly wants to replace Kemp in a primary contest with former Rep. Doug Collins (R).
Newly elected Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), who was one of the ten House members to vote to impeach, is also confronting a primary challenge next year against Afghanistan war veteran Tom Norton, a 2020 primary race contender. Norton was recently featured on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast to advertise his new candidacy. Michigan’s Allegan County Republican Party censured longtime Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.) for his impeachment vote, noting in the resolution that his decision was “a betrayal of his oath of office.”
Gene Koprowski launched a primary bid against Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a frequent Trump critic, and named the campaign committee, “Impeach Adam Kinzinger 2022”
In Ohio, former state Rep. Christina Hagan, who lost the 2018 primaries for a House seat, is considering a primary run against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio.).
“I have never seen a greater amount of backlash for any one single vote taken by any one single member of our Republican congressional delegation in Ohio,” Hagan said. “I have heard from Republicans in positions of power, within party leadership and all the way across the spectrum to faithful volunteers and business leaders throughout the region who are expressing serious frustration and distaste.”
And perhaps one of the most surprising House conservatives to break with Trump and vote to impeach him, was Tom Rice (R-S.C.).
While the five-term South Carolina congressman said he’s heard sheer disapproval from constituents over his vote, Rice also noted that he’s rallied considerable support for distancing himself from the former president.
“There are a number of people who have expressed their displeasure obviously and others who are happy with a vote of principle. I didn’t swear an oath to Donald Trump, I didn’t swear an oath to the Republican Party, I swore an oath to defend the Constitution. That’s what I intend to do,” Rice said.
Whether the vexation towards the pro-impeachment backers will last is unclear, as it’s significantly difficult to strip incumbents of their seats due to their advantageous political resources and funds. Another matter of uncertainty over the 2022 primary results is the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing congressional lines, which will change where House candidates seek support from.
“The real question is what happens to less active Republicans who still vote in party primaries. There is some evidence of Trump’s weakening in polls—such as in questions about whether he should run again or how large a role he should play in the party. Those less active GOP voters might find themselves drifting more from Trump as time passes, especially if there is a cascade of bad news about him,” Krasno said. “But it is hard to tell because his support has been so stable despite a fair amount of bad news.”
But one thing is clear—Trump has divided the Republican Party into factions, propping his close allies against fellow colleagues who classified the former president’s role in the January 6 riots as “incitement of insurrection.”
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.