After four years of norm-shattering rule, Donald Trump appears close to doing the one thing observers have long predicted but that has not yet come to pass: splitting the Republican party.
With Trump staring at the prospect of only a few more weeks in the White House, significant segments of the party are finally breaking with a president to whom they have hitherto displayed almost unwavering loyalty. Furthermore, Trump’s stoking of division in his own party has even succeeded in uniting warring factions among his opponents.
Responding on Wednesday night to the president’s bombshell threat to veto the $900bn Covid relief and stimulus bill, Democratic leaders and members of the progressive House “Squad” – otherwise at each other’s throats – welcomed Trump’s demand for increased direct payments to individual Americans.
“Let’s do it!” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“We can pass $2k checks this week,” wrote Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Somewhere on Capitol Hill, presumably, Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell buried his head in his hands.
‘Send me a suitable bill, or else’
Predictions that Trump will wreck and split the Republican party have been rife since 2015, when he wrecked and split – and won – the race for the presidential nomination. While the party remains whole, and an official split will be a surprise, it has now descended into internecine strife, Trump loyalists fighting for the lost cause of a second term while others seek to adjust to life back in opposition.
Trump maintains a strong hold on the hard-right Republican base, on a large part of the House delegation who owe their seats to that base and on influential senators. The penalty for apostasy is clear: a primary from the right or, as rumour has it in the case of the Florida senator Marco Rubio, a challenge from Trump’s own daughter.
But in contrast to the zeal of the Maga-fuelled legions, in the Senate the party establishment has now rejected Trump’s increasingly wild attempts to hold on to power while negotiating the Covid deal which stoked Tuesday night’s extraordinary display of presidential petulance from the White House podium.
In his video message, Trump bemoaned spending commitments in the relief deal and demanded Congress “send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a Covid relief package. And maybe that administration will be me.”
It won’t, even if Trump’s allies in the House and Senate go through with planned challenges to the electoral college result in Congress on 6 January. Democrats who control the House will ensure the result is certified there, while McConnell and his deputies assure passage in the Senate.
But if such challenges can only be performative, they will be politically beneficial for everyone except the Republican establishment which will help to beat them down. Trump’s refusal to accept defeat, not to mention the vicious fire he and his allies have…
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