Ever since former President Donald Trump came onto the scene, Democrats and establishment Republicans alike have lamented the gradual Trumpification of the GOP. If current trends are any indication, they ain’t seen nothing yet. It appears the Republican Party is being forced to listen to its base as voters continually support congressional candidates who represent a marked departure from the days of establishment Romneyism. The 2022 primary season reveals that right-leaning Americans are done with those who prefer to bend to Democrats in the name of bipartisanship and are pushing for a more pugnacious party.
“In many cases, facing their own fiercely competitive general election races, Republicans running this year are largely foregoing appeals to the center, instead doubling down on conservative positions — from opposing popular bipartisan reforms to celebrating the rollback of abortion rights,” according to Politico. The outlet noted the “stark difference in rhetoric and policy positions between those outgoing senators and the Republicans back home running for their seats also illustrates the deeply polarizing approach being taken by a new crop of GOP candidates.”
To put it simply, the base is through with overly accommodating lawmakers and is ready for people who prefer brass knuckles over boxing gloves. Gregg Keller, a Republican consultant, told Politico that “[v]oters are interested in candidates who aren’t interested in being members of the go-along, get-along party,” and that “the bases of both parties right now have a huge amount of justifiable skepticism about Washington, D.C. dealmaking and how that has a lot to do with the situation in which we find ourselves today.”
Ohio provides a prime example of this new trend. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who is retiring, was one of the leading proponents of the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was passed in November. However, of the five candidates who sought to replace him, the top two finishers in the primary were both staunch critics of the legislation. J.D. Vance, who won the race, said “Republicans have been totally had” and also slammed the recent gun violence bill, which Portman supported.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina is also stepping down. He backed both the infrastructure legislation and the gun violence bill. Rep. Ted Budd is hoping to replace him in November, and has savaged the infrastructure plan as “a liberal trojan horse for a socialist agenda.”
These candidates are just the tip of the iceberg. Across the country, this highly-charged and critical attitude is making solid gains in many competitive races. It was not difficult to see this coming.
The success of Trump in 2016 and his penchant for biting back at the Fourth Estate rather than taking their barbs with a smile showed the party base they did not have to settle for compliant Republicans any longer. Indeed, up-and-coming politicians on the right saw that to win over conservative voters, they had better be willing to fight and fight hard. A quick glimpse at the rise of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis perfectly illustrates this principle.
In many key primaries, candidates who can emulate Trump’s pugilistic style are gaining ground. But this raises a question: Is America witnessing the end of bipartisanship?
If folks on both sides of the aisle want candidates who will fight to stop the other side’s agenda, is there room for negotiation on legislation? Perhaps there is when it comes to minor issues that might not affect people’s everyday lives. But on topics like the economy, abortion, education, and others, there probably will not be much room for compromise. In this situation, the party with the most lawmakers will likely be the one that wins out. One thing is abundantly clear, the tenor of America’s political discourse will not be calming down anytime soon.