What's next for the Republicans?
Updated: Jan 17
Trump's defeat in the 2020 Presidential Election hurt the Republican Party. Then they lost their majority control of the House in two early January by-elections. Finger-pointing, name-calling and the blame game ensued. The GOP is now in disarray.
The Party of the establishment is now at a major point of reflection and debate. What does it stand for? And more importantly: Who does it represent?
For better or worse, Trump built a winning coalition of fringe issue followers and largely rural and suburban voters. The GOP would like to keep the latter but probably dispense with the former.
The problem with American politics - and the UK too for that matter - is in a two party, first past the post system, those who hold views which at best are independent and at worst extreme have nowhere else to gather if they aspire to be heard or get close to power. While in European-style systems of transferable votes and coalition government they stand under their own flags and banners, but to survive here, they must invade the host body of one of the two political parties.
The crackpot conspirators at Q-Anon, the white supremacists, anti-Semites and American nationalists not only attached themselves to the Republican cause, but under Trump's leadership, found themselves flourishing. Those who held what would be considered outspoken opinions and rather repugnant views in normal circumstances, were praised by the President, defended as true Patriots and in many cases found themselves in positions of power on local Republican organising committees, selected as official Republican candidates and elected as judges, councillors, senators and school superintendents in communities up and down the country.
What had once been a merely convenient electoral parasite is no longer just here for the free ride, it is coursing through the blood stream in a fight for the heart of Republican politics.
How did this come to pass? Well, like nature, politics abhors a vacuum. When empty space exists other forces rush to fill it. Some more malevolent than others.
Money and lobbying play a powerful role in US politics, from support for individual candidates, funding tv and digital media campaigns, proposing ballot initiatives and shaping the legislative program.
The Republicans are largely supported in their ambitions by social conservatives, economic conservatives and soft regulation conservatives. They run campaigns to stop you doing things they disagree with, they want to keep more of what they already have and, if there absolutely has to be a government, then make it a small one with little power or control.
Three groups have stood strongest behind these goals and campaigns in recent years.
The US Chamber of Commerce had huge Political Action Committees almost exclusively in support of Republican candidates and causes. They counter organized labour's campaigns on minimum wage, employment and environment laws, and lobby on trade and tariff issues for big business.
The brilliantly organised and highly effective Americans for Prosperity - a grass roots campaign team funded by the secretive Koch brothers - sends armies of volunteers to key seats in support of candidates they approve of. In 2004, the Kochs poured billions of dollars from their privately held industrial businesses into transforming the Tea Party movement into a powerful libertarian conservative political force opposing Obama care, climate change regulations and workers' rights.
And the Republicans have also relied on the long standing support of the National Rifle Association, the NRA. Even after the spate of horrific school shootings and murders in 2018, Republican lawmakers continued to receive millions of dollars in contributions and millions more on anti-gun control campaigns and advertising.
These are the mainstream groups behind what for years was the mainstream Republican Party. But things are changing. Their support is no longer exclusive and seems at odds with the current direction of the GOP.
Charles Koch said in a recent TV interview:
"Some of the politicians we got elected — I would see them on TV, and they would be talking about policies that were antithetical: against immigration, against criminal justice reform, against a more peaceful foreign policy,"
Koch now claims he wants to help elect people who would "succeed by helping others succeed" in a post-Trump world. It remains to be seen where the billionaire's dollars will go but it appears unlikely it will go to Trump supporting candidates.
The US Chamber of Commerce and many of its members have also said they will pull all funding for Republican politicians who tried to obstruct or decertify the 2020 election results.
And the powerful gun lobby has been seriously wounded with the NRA declaring bankruptcy last month and facing legal action in New York following investigations into financial mis-doings and infiltration by Russian government agents. The NRA is trying to fight the charges and move its HQ to gun-friendlier Texas at the same time.
So what next? In the 2022 mid-term elections every seat in the House will be contested along with a third of the Senate seats, as well as some high profile Mayor and gubernatorial elections for State Governors. There are also boundary changes and re-districting to come following the 2020 Census and a number of incumbents appear vulnerable.
In some early signs of what is to come, Republican Senators and Representatives who voted to impeach Trump or condemned his actions and inactions around the insurrection on the Capitol have been challenged by Trump loyalists and face deselection and primary contests.
This is the battle for the Republican Party.
The local party machine appears to be remaining loyal to President Trump. In my own sleepy Florida backwater, the leadership of the local Republican Party issued a terse statement saying they didn't recognise Joe Biden as the legitimate President and wouldn't be co-operating with the new administration. I'm sure the incoming Government are dismayed by that news, but it gives a little window into the strange world of Republican politics.
The Republicans will have to undergo some significant realignment. They must make themselves electable to a population who rejected Trump at the November election and were dismayed further by his post election comments and behaviour. The writing was on the wall after the two run off election defeats in Georgia - a state the GOP would normally consider its heartland. And if they are ever to persuade the big money, business and mainstream backers to loosen the purse strings they will need to select a slate of candidates who are in touch with the mainstream again.
As Charles Koch said: "The whole purpose of us getting into politics was to find people who would help move us toward a society of equal rights and mutual benefit where people could realize their potential,"
The Democrats will be watching on.
After all, money is green not red or blue.
Martin Liptrot is a political campaigns and public affairs consultant. After running election campaigns in the UK and US, he now supports local activists and organizations striving to 'make good things happen'.
Picture Credit Reuters CentralMaine.com