There was never anything more than an occasionally cordial relationship between Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) and former President Donald Trump. That much hardly needs to be stated. The senator and former presidential candidate doesn’t seem to understand that he burned his bridges to a very large section of the GOP voting base with his frequent criticisms of the 45th president. Perhaps this is now more apparent to him after being savaged by attendees of the recent Utah Republican Party Convention.
The heckling and booing that Romney faced is just one of many signs that Trump’s departure from the White House in January was not the end of a short-lived era. On the contrary, the outcome of the 2020 election set a fire of anger and discontent under the populist America First faction of the party’s base. The signs of still growing discontent are becoming more obvious, it seems, with every passing week.
Old Guard Missing the Point
Establishment Republicans lay the blame squarely at Trump’s feet. They seem to think that this upstart movement within their party threatens to tear it apart – and Trump, as its founder, should be castigated, shunned, and cast out. They are missing the point. Trump did not begin this movement: It was always there. It lived in the hearts and minds of the party’s conservatives and many of its libertarians. Before Trump, though, it never had a voice in the corridors of power. The GOP establishment did all it could to keep this movement down. In 2016, Trump gave it a real voice, and now the genie is well and truly out of the bottle.
While the GOP’s prospects of regaining political power in 2022 are pretty good – assuming no election irregularities – there can be no dispute that, moving forward, two rival camps are now locked in a struggle to control the direction of the party. The establishment Bush-Romney-Cheney camp still commands much influence and is fighting to re-establish itself post-Trump. This wing of the GOP will do whatever it takes to hold and maintain political power, principles be damned. Globalism, neoconservatism, big government interference in the private sector: All of these platforms are entirely welcome, so long as the party remains in the hands of the Old Guard. The other camp – the one that Trump empowered – refuses to compromise its populist-nationalist agenda. One could say this is a struggle between the Country First faction and the Party First faction.
Cheney Feeling the Heat
Like Romney, Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) is also feeling the wrath of Trump supporters for her antagonistic attitude toward the former president. For a while it seemed Cheney might actually survive the slings and arrows, but her future with the party is now less certain. Prior to a May 4 appearance on Fox News, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was caught on a hot mic expressing to host Steve Doocy his frustration with Cheney. “I think she’s got real problems,” McCarthy said. “I’ve had it with her, you know. I’ve lost confidence …” The congressman went on to suggest that a “motion” of some kind would likely be brought up by House Republicans. Presumably, it would be aimed at stripping Cheney of her leadership of the House Republican Conference.
Momentum appears to be on the side of the pro-Trump faction. If the man himself returns to the political stage in 2024, its victory will be assured. The Mitt Romneys, Liz Cheneys, and Adam Kinzingers of the GOP will be cast aside. When the dust settles after the 2022 midterms, all those who have an interest in the future of the Republican Party will know which way the wind is blowing. How many House and Senate seats the GOP wins is only half of the equation. The other half is the color of the flags under which the winners march: Republican red or American red, white, and blue.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.