Cracks appear in Republican logo

Is it possible for a political party to get stronger even as it fractures? That’s the question hanging over American politics as the Republican Party has increasingly divided itself into pro-Trumpists, never-Trumpists, and politically-convenient Trumpists.

Here’s a rundown of some notable developments:

Immigration, Abortion, Russia Divide Republicans

The immigration bill that Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma negotiated – the one that gave Republicans much of what they wanted – went nowhere when his colleagues voted against the bill. Lankford, described by the Associated Press as “a conservative who rarely votes against his party”, reportedly had enough support for the bill for it to pass until former President Donald Trump interceded.

With Roe v. Wade overturned by the Supreme Court in 2022, Republicans achieved a longstanding objective but lost a wedge issue that had unified the party and helped loosen Democrats’ grip on political power in Washington. Now, the party is splintering as Republicans begin to grapple with the details of anti-abortion policymaking.

In one sense, the party is left holding a blade to its own throat as absolutists stick to their pro-life principles and seek to resurrect or install new laws that outlaw abortions from conception. Others are suggesting between 6 and 15 weeks as the limit for legal abortion in the cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the pregnant woman. In Trump’s latest flip-flop on the issue, he advocates for leaving the matter for each state to decide. The change – and confusion within the party – stems from rank-and-file Republicans who object to legislation that criminalizes the procedure or otherwise makes abortion more onerous for women, their loved ones, and their healthcare providers.

Russian propaganda is finding its way into congressional policymaking, and Republican leaders don’t like it. With many members of their party citing falsehoods – like the story that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky bought two yachts with aid money – to justify halting further aid to Ukraine, Mike Turner, R-Ohio, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are pushing back, with McCaul telling Puck News, “Russian propaganda has made its way into the United States, unfortunately, and it’s infected a good chunk of my party’s base.” In an interview with CNN, Turner concurred with McCaul and went on to assert, “To the extent that this propaganda takes hold, it makes it more difficult for us to really see this as an authoritarian versus democracy battle, which is what it is.”

Election Board Refuseniks Drawing Colleagues’ Ire

Colorado is experiencing what several states went through in 2022: Republicans on county election boards are refusing to sign off on election results, in this case from the March presidential primary. The Denver Post reported that Matt Crane, the executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association and a former Republican clerk of Arapahoe County, called the reasons that have been cited by dissenting canvass members “complete fabricated garbage.”

In a separate story in Colorado, some Republican leaders are demanding the resignation of state party chair Dave Williams after he ejected a reporter for the Colorado Sun from a GOP assembly and then endorsed the re-election of Rep. Lauren Boebert, a move his critics claim “undermines the electoral process within our party.” 

Trumpists Installed at RNC

The Republican National Committee has replaced Chair Ronna McDaniel with Michael Whatley, chair of the North Carolina Republican Party and a Trump loyalist, and installed Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, as co-chair. Senior Trump campaign advisor Chris LaCivita will also be the RNC’s new chief operating officer. Addressing obvious concerns that these moves will make the RNC an even larger conduit for funneling money to Trump, the re-election campaign gave assurances that it would no longer take RNC funds to pay Trump’s legal bills. But according to Politico, the campaign plans to merge its operations with the RNC, including communications, data, and fundraising.

In response, Newsweek reported that a “sub-set of the GOP activist base” lashed out on social media. The publication quoted an Army veteran who posted this: “I donated to help win elections, not to maintain the lifestyle of a billionaire. No point donating now.” A Nikki Haley supporter tweeted, “MAGA GOP not getting a dime from me ever again. Good luck trying to raise money for Trump’s legal issues.” And a “Generation Z conservative who identifies as a DeSantis supporter” invoked the legacies of Lincoln, Coolidge, and Reagan in lamenting the new leadership.

New Campaign Urges a Break from Trump

The group Republican Voters Against Trump has launched a $50 million campaign to persuade others in the party to abandon Trump in November. The group’s website hosts more than 100 self-made videos from citizens who had previously voted for Trump explaining why they will no longer support him. The January 6 attack on the Capitol was the breaking point for many. His lack of values, poor character, and disregard for the Constitution are other commonly cited reasons why these Republicans say they won’t vote for him.

Sununu is Poster Boy for Politics of Convenience

Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire has become the poster boy for the politically-convenient Trumpists. The Bulwark once described him as one of the saner members of today’s Republican Party for his recognition that the 2020 election was free and fair, acknowledgement of climate change, and criticism of the Republicans who ostracized now-former Rep. Liz Cheney and other principled dissidents. That same 2022 article, however, also said he was yet another Republican who is willing to put party ahead of country for his endorsement of election-deniers to represent New Hampshire in Congress. And on ABC’s This Week (April 14), Sununu confirmed he would support Trump’s bid for re-election even if he is convicted in one of his four criminal trials, even though he contributed to the Jan. 6 insurrection, and even though he continues to lie about the results of the 2020 election.

In the wake of Sununu’s comments, The Bulwark had this to say: “Sununu is part of a large class of Republican elites who have been not just willing, but eager, to play dice with liberal democracy.”

With Trump’s third straight nomination secured, the extremist takeover of the Republican Party now seems complete. The party, including pro-Trumpists and politically-convenient Trumpists like Sununu, has consolidated around the MAGA figurehead, and as Politico reports, never-Trumpists are trying to figure out what went wrong. Yet recent election results have tipped against the party’s radical agenda, making it unclear if polls showing Trump leading in his general election matchup against President Biden reflect what voters will do in November. Despite the widening cracks in the once-vaunted unity exhibited by party leaders, the GOP’s multifaceted attacks on voting and elections and abortion, and its overt politicization of the immigration issue, demonstrate that even the Sununus of the party are now all in on undermining the will of the American people. It is the culmination of the party’s effective decades-long assault on liberal culture.

Sununu believes the American people “want that culture change of the Republican Party.” He might want to review a YouGov poll released in January prior to the primaries. It shows that Americans oppose two-thirds of Trump’s policies.

And since rejecting Trump in 2020, that’s how they’ve been voting.

>>> Tell us what you think. Answer just four questions in our poll – Is the narrative changing? <<<

Author: George Linzer
Published: April 18, 2024

Feature image: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash (modified)

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Sources

The URLs included with the sources below were good links when we published. However, as third party websites are updated over time, some links may be broken. We do not update these broken links. If you are interested in the source, it may be possible to find it by copying and pasting the URL into a search on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. From the search results, be sure to choose a date near the accessed date.

Mary Clare Jelonick, Stephen Groves, “Abandoned by his colleagues after negotiating a border compromise, GOP senator faces backlash alone”, AP, Feb 8, 2024, https://apnews.com/article/congress-border-deal-rejected-lankford-immigration-045fdf42d42b26270ee1f5f73e8bc1b0, accessed Apr 12, 2024

Elizabeth Dias, Lisa Lerer, “Republican Women Are Divided on Abortion as Bans Spread”, The New York Times, Apr 12, 2024, https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/12/us/abortion-ivf-republican-women.html, accessed Apr 15, 2024

Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder, “QUOTES: Comparing Trump’s Stance on Abortion Over Time”, Politico, Apr 8, 2024, https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/quotes-comparing-trumps-stance-on-abortion-over-time, accessed Apr 15, 2024

Olga Robinson, Shayan Sardarizadeh, Mike Wendling, “How pro-Russian ‘yacht’ propaganda influenced US debate over Ukraine aid”, BBC, Dec 20, 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-67766964, accessed Apr 15, 2024

Julia Ioffe, “McCaul to Action”, Puck News, Apr 2, 2024, https://puck.news/ukraine-aid-q-and-a-rep-mccaul-on-republican-support-for-bill/, accessed Apr 16, 2024

CNN, “Republican lawmaker says Russian propaganda has ‘infected a good chunk’ of GOP base”, YouTube, Apr 8, 2024, https://youtu.be/yZhhXjLUnnE?si=Y7by8pPdJFviJa6L&t=254, accessed Apr 15, 2024

Nick Coltrain, “Colorado officials warn of new frontier in election denial as more Republicans refuse to certify vote totals”, Denver Post, Apr 8, 2024, https://www.denverpost.com/2024/04/08/colorado-election-denial-county-canvass-boards-election-officials-protests-trump/, accessed Apr 8, 2024

John Aguilar, Nick Coltrain, Seth Klamann, “Colorado GOP meltdown: Leader’s brash style, party spending under fire from fellow Republicans”, Denver Post, Apr 12, 2024, https://www.denverpost.com/2024/04/12/colorado-republican-party-dave-williams-controversy-infighting/, accessed Apr 15, 2024

Natalie Allison, “RNC installs new leadership as Trump tightens hold on GOP”, Politico, Mar 8, 2024, https://www.politico.com/news/2024/03/08/rnc-new-leadership-donald-trump-00146032, accessed Apr 15, 2024

James Bickerton, “Lara Trump’s RNC Takeover Sparks Fury From Some Republicans”, Newsweek, Mar 9, 2024, https://www.newsweek.com/lara-trumps-rnc-takeover-sparks-fury-some-republicans-1877540, accessed Apr 15, 2024

Reid J. Epstein, “Anti-Trump Group of Republicans Lays Out $50 Million Plan of Attack”, The New York Times, Mar 12, 2024, https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/12/us/politics/republican-voters-against-trump.html, accessed Apr 15, 2024

Republican Voters Against Trump, https://rvat.org/, accessed Apr 15, 2024

Will Saletan, “Even the Sane Republicans Are Embracing Election Deniers”, The Bulwark, Nov 1, 2022, https://www.thebulwark.com/p/even-the-sane-republicans-are-embracing-election-deniers, accessed Apr 16, 2024

ABC News This Week, “Trump’s Manhattan trial will not have ‘major political ramifications’: Chris Sununu”, YouTube, Apr 14, 2024, https://youtu.be/O_7wbXTkoSI?si=Q67aTxHQsKVSmxfY, accessed Apr 16, 2024

Jonathan V. Last, “Chris Sununu Is Either a Mountebank, a Coward, or a Fool”, The Bulwark email, Apr 15, 2024

Adam Wren, “‘Why do they bend their knee?’ 6 Never-Trumpers look back at what went wrong”, Politico, Mar 13, 2024, https://www.politico.com/news/2024/03/13/never-trumpers-gop-2024-elections-00146726, accessed Apr 16, 2024

Eli McKown-Dawson, “How Americans feel about Trump’s proposed policies and the Republican primary candidates”, YouGov, Jan 12, 2024, https://today.yougov.com/politics/articles/48354-how-americans-feel-about-trumps-proposed-policies, accessed Apr 17, 2024

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