Trump v the Republican Party

| June 20, 2022

The midterm Republican primaries are showcasing the battle between Trump-loyalists and traditional Republican conservatives. It’s our first electoral insight into the aftermath of the Trump Presidency.

As the US storms through the 2022 midterm primary election calendar, the grand question regarding the political state of the Republican Party (or GOP) has yet to be determined. After being left in a state of disarray of radical proportions following President Trump’s failure to cede the 2020 presidential election and the notorious January 6th Capitol Hill riots, the Republican split over Trumpism politics has engulfed the party.

Although there are conflicting views over the direction of the GOP in the post-Trump era, it is indisputable that the endorsement of the former-President has manifested in electoral success in the 2022-midterm primaries.

This has been demonstrated in a plethora of victories for Trump-endorsed candidates in the Republican primaries. In particular, the victory for Ted Budd in North Carolina’s Senate race, Doug Mastriano in the decisive Pennsylvania gubernatorial campaign, and most notably, the victory of JD Vance in the Ohio Senate race, after a late endorsement from Trump surged his lagging campaign to victory.

Inversely, there are as many countable losses for Trump-backed candidates, especially for candidates seeking to unseat incumbents. Credible losses include Janice McGreachin for the Idaho governorship, the failure of rising star Madison Cawthorn to gain re-election in North Carolina, and most importantly, the loss of David Perdue in the crucial race for the Georgian governorship.

The jarring split in the Republican base has been emulated in Congress and prompted by the unofficial anti-Trump Republican caucus, led by Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Utah Senator, and former Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.

The divide has been exhibited through internal conflict over legislation multiple times during the 117th Congress, including heightened internal conflict between House Republicans over the Ukraine aid bill. Logically, it’s reasonable to envisage further internal Republican disputes in the 118th Congress centred on Trump-style nationalism, and traditional Republicanism which bears more appetite for bipartisanship.

Regardless of the outcome, it’s clear that the GOP’s internal battle over Trumpism politics is a distinguishing one that is being steadily exposed in the lead up to November. The most significant issue with this damaging, yet crucial, rebranding process is that it is an unsustainable one. The division is not one centred on policy, but on ideology, which harnesses much greater consequences for the party that should be fighting for tangible policies in its uphill electoral battle.

Joe Biden’s presidency has been pressured by daunting inflation and an exacerbated border crisis. What presents itself as a valuable opportunity for the Republican Party to win back seats in the Democratic-controlled Congress in the midterm elections is instead competing with the divergence between Trump-loyalists and “establishment” Republicans. Consequently, the party is still recovering from 2020 election and remains haunted by the legacy of its previous president, whose presence continues to garner substantial influence.

Despite the conflictive platform, a successful midterm election following a presidential election loss is something the GOP have been able to achieve in the past. In the 2010-midterm elections, Republicans handily flipped 63 House seats and 6 Senate seats following Barack Obama’s Democratic wave of 2008. National debt and foreign policy struggles featured in Obama’s first term in office, something mutually shared with Biden’s half-term.

However, to extrapolate this and foreshadow another Republican counterpunch this year would be to dismiss the identity struggle that is currently taking place. Trump’s Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, was elected by successfully merging the evangelical right and the GOP establishment. Inversely, Trump’s ascendancy never sought unity nor did it campaign away from his base once elected.

Although the 2022 midterm primaries and elections will provide an insight into the allegiances and Congressional state of the Republican Party, it will also set the platform for the presidential campaign in 2024. The inevitability of Trump announcing his 2024 bid clouds speculations of where the GOP looks for its next candidate.

The outright front-runner has emerged in Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, whose freedom-focused policy approach throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and vocal governance has founded himself an esteemed platform both in the state of Florida and nationwide. DeSantis’ heightened support from conservative media is doubled with his position as a representative of the major swing-state that resisted the Democratic blowback in 2020.

Whilst the GOP has seen their margin in Texas slip, and suffered defeats in key states such as Wisconsin and Michigan in the 2020 Presidential election, Trump notably increased his vote in the state of Florida by two percentage points.

Furthermore, Trump’s performance also improved in Florida’s key political counties of Collier and Broward, whilst Florida’s counties with the largest Hispanic populations all featured vast swings in favour of Trump, with Miami-Dade drastically increasing from 34.07 percent to 45.98 percent and both Hendry and Osceola counties presenting significant six percent swings. Evidently, Florida’s largely Cuban Hispanic population did not deviate from the Republican Party, just as it didn’t in Arizona and some areas of Texas in 2020.

Florida possesses a Republican-controlled state legislature, two Republican senators, 17 Republican House of Representative members, and, as aforementioned, a Republican governor. This red stronghold is enforced by Florida’s list of other revered Republicans, such as Senator Marco Rubio and senior House Republican, Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart.

It is reasonable to conclude that Florida is the future base for the GOP and Governor DeSantis is a future Republican presidential candidate. Strategically, DeSantis hasn’t made any political endorsements outside of Florida and hasn’t indicated future political ambitions beyond campaigning for the upcoming Florida gubernatorial election in November, giving him a clean platform.

The question of where DeSantis falls in the Trump-loyalist and traditional Republican divide is a speculative issue. Despite a trivial rift earlier this year, Trump and DeSantis have maintained a cordial relationship with DeSantis raising occasional criticisms of the ex-President’s governance without ever denouncing him.

The Floridian governor has emulated some of Trump’s approach to playing into the “culture wars”, which showcases his willingness to address the Trump base but doesn’t stimulate leadership or policy ambitions. Nevertheless, the slate is fairly keen for DeSantis and he has the rare political capacity to bridge the factional divide in the GOP.

The 2022 midterm primaries and elections will reveal the Republican Party’s affinity to Trumpism. Trump cunningly manoeuvred the political landscape in his presidential campaign and created a tenable avenue for his antagonistic brand of conservatism that attacked establishment politics and utilised a disenfranchised America. His influence on the party has endured and his vocal voter base remains.

To challenge Biden, the GOP would need to develop a consistent and genuine policy identity whilst promoting a clean governance framework. In the meantime, Democrats should rejoice as Republicans fight to determine whether they continue to stand by the former President, and if so, indulge in an internal culture war.

This article was published by the Australian Institute for International Affairs.

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