Well, the battle is now joined, if it wasn’t already. The 45th president, less than three months out of office, took to the stage at a major GOP fundraising event over the weekend and, according to multiple accounts, called the man who is now the nation’s top-ranking Republican a “dumb son of a b–ch.”
And the feeling is certainly mutual. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made little effort to hide his rage, blaming Donald Trump’s overheated rhetoric for the GOP losing control of the White House and Senate and for the actions of the pro-Trump mob that breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. “They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth — because he was angry he’d lost an election … Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty,” the Senate minority leader stated categorically in a February speech.
Can anything good possibly come of this feud between Trump and McConnell, which has now spilled into full public view? Sure — for Democrats, who must be sitting in their virtual armchairs, eating their virtual popcorn, and enjoying the show immensely. This near-Balkanization of the Republican Party is exactly what they are hoping for, and will likely need, to maintain their control of Congress in 2022 and the White House in ‘24.
Right now, it seems the prevailing view among the dispirited mass of Trump voters is that the GOP is to be viewed skeptically at best, rejected at worst. It’s impossible to know the exact numbers, but while many traditional Republicans are upset at Trump for going too far in challenging the election results, at least as many Trump loyalists are just as incensed at McConnell for failing to challenge the outcome to the bitter end.
And so, the GOP is stuck right in the middle, between Trump the rock and McConnell the hard place.
As Joe Biden becomes exactly the president they most feared, conservatives will continue to vote for the Republican presidential candidate, but in what numbers? Will the voters who came out of the woodwork to vote for Trump twice stick around or go back into hiding? The likes of Mitt Romney and John McCain were “hold your nose” nominees who hardly inspired sufficient support — or turnout. A return to the days when the GOP candidate could easily be depicted by elite media as plutocratic tools of monied interests would lead to the end of the Republican Party as we know it.
So, who is right, who is wrong, and how can this ever-growing divide be bridged? Who can unify a party riven by feuds between Trumpers and Never-Trumpers, old-time conservatives and populist-nationalists, establishment and grassroots? Is there a single figure who can convince enough of the party faithful to join forces under the common banner of the GOP?
No doubt Ron DeSantis is preparing to present himself as that unifying individual — the successful and popular governor of Florida is a close ally of the 45th president from a state that actually went bigger for Trump in 2020 than in 2016. With his every Trumpian statement of outrage about the pandemic, DeSantis — subject of a recent hit job by 60 Minutes — is positioning himself these days as the natural successor to Trump. But even as once-highly regarded potential candidates like Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Texas Senator Ted Cruz damage themselves, it’s not like DeSantis has anything close to a glide path to the GOP nomination. The likes of Senators Josh Hawley, Tim Scott, and Tom Cotton and virtually every other presidential wannabe will make similar claims about uniting the party.
Whatever leader may emerge in the months ahead and ride to the rescue of the bitterly divided GOP must be able to appeal to both wings of the party. He must be willing and able to step into the middle of this figurative shouting match between Trump and McConnell and forge a truce. And, most importantly, he must then convince both sides to put their shoulders to the wheel to achieve what remains, after all the upset, the shared mission of Republicans of every shape and size: to stop the left.
Read more from Tim Donner.