How Trump’s threats to challenge Republicans could impact the Party’s future.
It’s no secret that former President Donald Trump loved the spotlight that came with his position at the top of the Republican party, but his departure leaves a lot of open questions about the future of the Republican party in the 2022 midterms, and even the 2024 presidential election.
In his first public statement since leaving office and being kicked off social media sites Twitter and Facebook, Trump lashed out at Senate Republicans who voted to convict him on impeachment charges. Specifically, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who did not vote to convict because of his opposition to the constitutionality of convicting a former president, but rebuked the former president on the Senate Floor and in a Wall Street Journal column. Calling McConnell a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack,” Trump threatened, “if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again,” meaning that he will support primary challenges against Republican members in the 2022 midterms.
This isn’t the first time that Trump has threatened to support primary challenges against Republicans who in his mind were disloyal, but it’s now trickling down to the state-level parties who are already moving to punish their elected representatives who split from the majority to vote to impeach or convict Trump.
The North Carolina Republican Party voted unanimously to censure Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) following his vote to convict. The move was more meant to send a message than to challenge Burr directly since the Senator announced in 2016 that he won’t run for re elections in the Senate in 2022. Likewise in Pennsylvania, the Republican Party has threatened to censure the retiring Sen. Pat Toomey for his conviction vote while other Republicans in the state complained that the move is an attempt to placate the “Trumpiest factions” within the party and that they’re abusing the censure process.
In Arizona, the Republican Party passed resolutions to censure three of their most prominent party leaders who have spoken out at times against Trump – Gov. Doug Ducey, Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain (widow of late Sen. John McCain). Maine’s Republican Party will consider censuring Sen. Susan Collins, and Republicans in Louisiana reprimanded and censured Sen. Bill Cassidy who won reelection in November by 40 percentage points.
Utah, however, did something different as the Utah Republican Party issued a statement supporting both Sens. Mike Lee, who did not vote to convict the former president, and Mitt Romney, who did vote to convict. The statement said in part, “The differences between our own Utah Republicans showcase a diversity of thought, in contrast to the danger of a party fixated on ‘unanimity of thought’.”
Both sides seem to be preparing for the battles to come. McConnell told reporters that he’s not going to let Trump stand in the way of Republicans taking back the Senate majority in the 2022 elections, and that if need be, he would get involved in a GOP primary if that means a more electable candidate would win the general election. The creation of a formal third party over these divisions is unlikely since it would almost certainly threaten any hopes of conservatives recapturing the House, Senate or White House for the foreseeable future, but it’s clear from Trump’s public statements and the response from state parties that Trump’s legacy will impact the 2022 midterm elections.