Trump is everything the GOP establishment feared he would be. That is their worst nightmare. He has wrecked every chance they’ve had to torpedo the Affordable Care Act. He’s crossed the aisle and cut a deal or two with Democrats, and threatened to cut more. He has waged non-stop name calling, belittling and ridiculing of a pack of staid GOP senators. He has been absolutely worthless when it comes to making things easier for GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his bid to get any of the GOP’s retrograde legislation through from gutting health care to his massive tax giveaway to the rich. He’s topped it all by obliterating the GOP’s phony effort to pose as a party that values diversity by coming across as practically a closet Klansman in the White House with his near embrace of white nationalists.
If so much didn’t ride on the 2018 midterm elections, the GOP leaders could ignore, shrug off or laugh him away. But they can’t, because control of the House could be a close run up, maybe even the Senate too, if Trump’s popularity wallows in the depths and his belligerency makes him appear to millions of voters as a wacky, out of control blathering demagogue. This hurts the party because, like it or not, a president is loosely regarded as the titular head of his party. The GOP leaders when they waged their eight-year war on Obama did everything they could to remind all that he was the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. The message being that so went Obama, so went the party.
The Trump-GOP feud is not new. It started in 2012 when Trump first announced he was a presidential candidate, beat up on Obama as an alien to become a political household name, and then drew grumbles and mumbles from that year’s other crop of GOP presidential candidates about pandering to racists with his birtherism ploy. In 2016, the Trump party feud kicked in with a vengeance. He spent as much time insulting, taking digs at and even slandering his GOP rivals as he did Hillary. They didn’t like it or him, and more than a few made that crystal clear. At the very least, he was the classic political outlier, and the great fear was that you put him in the Oval Office and things would quickly go south for the party. Trump could care less about what they think on that score for the simple fact that he’s got a base that doesn’t give a hoot about the GOP party regulars. They spend as much time as Trump railing against them for being just as much part of the alleged problem as Democrats. The problem to them being that they are part of the deal making, corporate beholden, beltway politicians who have turned their backs on struggling white blue collar, rural and lower middle class, less educated workers. When Trump hammers the NFL owners who for the most part are staid GOP establishment boosters, for allegedly soft-peddling the black players and their anthem protests, he knows that this will elicit loud cheers and high fives from his backers. He can read the polls and while those polls harp on his plunging popularity numbers, he sees that his avid backers, and there are millions of them, are unwavering in their support of him.
Trump is in some ways a manifestation of what happened to the GOP after the election of Obama in 2012. It faced a massive revolt from the party’s rabid right-wing populist base complete with a name, the Tea Party. Their leaders railed that the GOP had made its own badly ruffled election bed when it tried to be all moderate to all people. This supposedly tossed ice water on the enthusiasm of the GOP rank and file. The Republican National Committee’s near-100-page blueprint a year after for tweaking the party raised the temperature level on Tea Party anger even higher. Its emphasis on an aggressive court of Hispanics, minorities and gays was seen as a flat-out betrayal of fundamental GOP principles. Key GOP Senators bend on immigration reform and on gun control was the last straw.
Trump picked up on that and sprinted with it. The more he beat up on immigrants, Muslims and Black Lives Matter, the more he became the go-to guy for the angry, frustrated, alienated, out-of-work blue collar in small town Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and parts known and unknown. So, do GOP party leaders really have cause for alarm? Yes and no. They’ll be primary challenges to the retiring GOP Senators and House members mostly from the right, some with Trump’s backing, some may win. This will sweat the party for a minute by forcing it to spend time and money to fend off their charges of betrayal. The likelihood is that the winner of the primary seat will still be a Republican. And once in the House or the Senate will toe the party line on the big-ticket items. The party’s control will remain firm.
Still, it gives one great delight to see Trump make the GOP sweat. If ever a party deserved to suffer that ordeal, it’s the GOP.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. His latest book is The Impeachment of President Trump? (Amazon Kindle) will be released in August. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.