Fractured party: Trump-fatigue has some in GOP ready for schism
WASHINGTON (CN) — Donald Trump may not be president any longer, but the fissures created in the GOP over his single term have prompted a group of Republican lawmakers to call for the formation of a new political party.
First reported by Reuters, the preamble to a letter expected to be released Thursday will state: “When in our democratic republic, forces of conspiracy, division, and despotism arise, it is the patriotic duty of citizens to act collectively in defense of liberty and justice.”
The table-shaking comes from more than 100 Republicans, including former state and federal officials, members of Congress, former ambassadors, cabinet secretaries, as well as onetime Republican Party chairmen.
Former Republican governors including Tom Ridge — the first director of the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush — and former Republican Representative Barbara Comstock of Virginia are also expected to sign.
Comstock, before losing her seat in Virginia to Democrat Jennifer Wexton in 2018, regularly critiqued Trump, saying he was a “bad role model” and did not reflect the values of the Republican Party. For the same reason, she also publicly rejected a $3,000 donation her campaign received from Trump, opting instead to funnel the money to wounded veteran groups.
At the core of the letter anticipated for release Thursday will be demands on the Grand Old Party to change its ways and divorce itself from right-wing extremism or face an entirely new challenger that could siphon off its base.
For New York-based civil rights attorney Andrew Laufer, the potential shift inside the GOP is a “late but welcomed event.”
“It should have happened while Trump was in office,” Laufer said in an email Thursday. “Our Republic would have sustained substantially less damage had that occurred. We may not have had an insurrection on January 6th if more sane Republicans went public with their newly found confidence. Unfortunately, too few had the will and determination of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger to do so.”
In the House of Representatives, divisions among the Republican Party’s pro-Trump and no-Trump factions have already caused significant rifts. Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President and Republican mainstay Dick Cheney, was ousted from her spot as the House GOP conference chair on Wednesday. It is the third most powerful place for a Republican lawmaker in that wing of Congress.
Having voted to impeach Trump for incitement of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Cheney has been on the skids with Republicans for months. Her ouster this week came by way of a voice vote, meaning those who chose to boot her did not even need to have their vote recorded formally. Party leaders have called Cheney’s outspoken criticism of Trump a threat to Republican unity.
Kinzinger has been a vocal critic of Trump and of fellow Republican lawmakers who voted against certifying the election for President Joe Biden, even after violence and bloodshed inside of the Capitol. Still, Kinzinger’s voting record has been aligned with the Trump administration’s aims. According to a track record compiled by FiveThirtyEight, Kinzinger voted with the Trump administration, on average, 90% of the time over two congressional terms.
“Cheney and Kinzinger want Conservatism without the authoritarian fascist elements of Trumpism,” Laufer said. “Trump was still a Republican president and many of his financial backers also support House and Senate GOPers pre-‘Stop the Steal/insurrection Trump. They shared the same legislative agenda, hence the voting record.”
Others fanning the flames of a Republican Party schism are Miles Taylor, once chief of staff to Trump’s Homeland Security secretary and acting Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and Kevin McAleenan — who faced intense scrutiny for the Trump administration’s separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border. They appeared on CNN 24 hours ago, saying it was time to “reform or repeal the Republican Party.”
Taylor is also the “anonymous” author of the 2018 New York Times op-ed “I am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” The essay stirred controversy on both sides, with even Democrats simultaneously grateful for the candor and resentful that so-called “resistant” Republican would not speak out against the president’s most unpopular policies.
Rising quickly in the ranks to take Cheney’s post in the party is New York Republican Elise Stefanik, one of the youngest conservative women to ever serve in Congress.
Stefanik was loyal to Trump early on, a position that gained attention during the 45th president’s first impeachment inquiry. That time, Trump faced impeachment for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and Stefanik, as the sole Republican woman on the House Intelligence Committee, fast became a darling of the right.
After one press conference in which Stefanik claimed that “nothing” rose to the level of impeachment, and it was “wishful thinking” by Democrats, Trump anointed her: “A new Republican Star is born! Great going @EliseStefanik,” he tweeted on Nov. 17, 2019.
Stefanik’s ascendancy has not been seamless. Texas lawmaker Chip Roy — who voted with Trump 89.5% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight — reportedly called for her quick coronation to slow down. On Thursday, Republican lawmakers meet for a “candidate forum” with Stefanik to hear her case. Even with potential dissension, however, she is expected to take Cheney’s now vacant spot with ease.