President Donald Trump and his team are claiming victory with the announced retirement of both GOP Sens. Corker and Flake, but what will the future cost be to the Republican Party? Is the GOP establishment just a part of the D.C. swamp that Trump promised to drain? Or is the president damaging the foundation needed to make real change in government?
With the exits of Flake and Corker, the power of the GOP establishment is certainly diminished, and the party is being reshaped. Trump will get rid of two of his leading critics, but in the meantime, these detractors are now emboldened to use their remaining time in office to fire away at the White House without any fear of consequences. As a result, it could significantly affect the success or failure of the GOP in the 2018 mid-term elections.
Trump and those around him see these circumstances clearly as a win. The president’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon of Breitbart News flippantly reported “another day, another scalp.” The casualty list of former detractors is growing, and many are lawmakers from the mainstream segment of the GOP: Washington Rep. Dave Reichert, Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, and Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. They have all given up their reelection plans. Those who want to see the Republican establishment gone are now chomping at the bit.
“I think people want change,” said former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, an outspoken Trump supporter. “They want a breath of fresh air.”
“They’re fed up with the status quo,” she added. “Period.”
The Trump administration is already on the offensive to find a more friendly senator to take Flake’s place. White House officials talked on Tuesday with Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWitt. He was an active supporter of Trump during his run for office and served as an official in the campaign.
Corker and Flake may not be alone. Other mainstream GOP lawmakers are in the crosshairs of both Steve Bannon and David Bossie, the former deputy campaign manager of Trump’s 2016 campaign. They are setting up challengers across the nation to run against established GOP politicians. Hedge funds billionaire Robert Mercer, one of Trump’s biggest donors, is backing the effort.
It’s not clear to what extent Trump is supporting the Bannon-led effort. Trump is supporting people like Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, even though he is one of Bannon’s targets. On Tuesday, Trump was joined by Barrasso as they entered a Senate GOP lunch.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been frustrated by Trump’s unwillingness to publicly disavow the anti-incumbent effort. McConnell has met with Trump several times to discuss how damaging primaries will be to the GOP Party. And Vice President Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, challenged an audience recently to close their wallets or give to primary challengers if established lawmakers do not enact Trump’s agenda. Trump’s desire for revenge against his critics along with his unwillingness to distance himself from Bannon’s efforts may impact Republican support for tax reform.
Bannan’s forces have what seems like unstoppable momentum. He now has the attention of Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, who has donated millions of dollars to Senate Republicans over the years. He is tired of GOP ineffectiveness and wants to see change. And Bannon is set to meet with another group of high-powered investors on Thursday in New York City.
McConnell is now even on the defensive. Some of the new 2018 Republican recruits have not declared whether they would support the Kentucky senator to serve as the Republican leader in the next Congress. Add to this the tension regarding how much longer GOP Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) can serve because of their health, and you have a possible major upheaval within the Republican ranks.
These establishment Republicans may not realize it, but they could be helping the President fulfill a campaign promise. President Trump stated that he wants to ‘drain the swamp.’ Now he may not be draining the entire swamp he’s certainly draining the GOP. Now, it remains to be seen if these moves inside the party will help or hurt the President after 2018.
What do you think the future of the GOP Party looks like?