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HomeWeb NewsTrump’s ‘circular firing squad’ threatens GOP midterm gains

For all the energy he creates at the party’s grassroots, his stranglehold on the party is emerging as one of the biggest threats to the GOP’s otherwise bright prospects in November.

He has already singled out 10 House Republicans for extinction. He is attacking GOP governors and backing their primary challengers, while meddling in Senate races where it may lead to the nomination of flawed candidates who are ill-suited for a general election. He is fomenting a rebellion against the party’s Senate leader, Mitch McConnell. And this week, in Salt Lake City, it was David Bossie, the former Trump deputy campaign manager, who was leading the effort to kick Cheney and Kinzinger to the curb.

“Some of us who have been around for a while don’t think this makes any sense,” said Bill Palatucci, a Republican National Committee member from New Jersey. “We’ve got Biden in free fall, [Democrats] can’t get anything done in Washington, and for us to convene a circular firing squad, that make no sense to me.”

Mike DuHaime, a former Republican National Committee political director, called the censure “insane.

The censure was the product of several days of private negotiation in the hallways and meeting rooms of the Salt Lake City hotel where the RNC met. Initially, the resolution’s authors had proposed calling for the ouster of Cheney and Kinzinger — both of whom drew Trump’s ire for voting to impeach him — from the House Republican Conference. The language was later tempered to appease RNC members who feared it could prove politically taxing for the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, and for McDaniel, who said in November that Cheney “obviously” is “still a Republican.”

Still, the censure marked an unusually pointed rebuke of two Republican incumbents. And the RNC could still go further. On Wednesday, the committee received a letter signed by Republican Party leaders in Wyoming allowing the RNC to fund Cheney’s primary challenger, Harriet Hageman, an RNC official said.

Cheney and Kinzinger had broken with the party, said Harmeet Dhillon, one of several dozen RNC members who co-sponsored the censure resolution.

“This,” she said, “is the party’s repudiation of them.”

During the public portion of the RNC meeting on Friday, Biden’s perceived shortcomings and the RNC’s plans for the midterms did get an airing. McDaniel laced into Biden while touting new RNC initiatives to bolster the party’s outreach to minority groups, including opening “community centers” to engage Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American voters. And the RNC has hired 15 new “election integrity state directors” nationwide, she said, positions added as the national committee takes part in dozens of lawsuits to promote voter ID laws.

The audience erupted in applause as McDaniel discussed the party’s decision to cut ties with the Commission on Presidential Debates, a measure that would prohibit future Republican nominees from participating in the CPD events. The resolution, scheduled to be taken up by the full body this summer, is widely supported by members.

But it was the censure resolution that, for many members, was top of mind. To Republicans here, Cheney and Kinzinger had not only betrayed the GOP by joining a committee investigating Trump’s effort to overturn the result of the 2020 election, but were grandstanding. RNC members repeatedly called the Jan. 6 committee a “sham” or a “witch hunt.” And if the committee weighed heavily on RNC members, it was in part because — for some of them — the committee was interested in them.

“Gotta go … can’t talk to you,” said Kelli Ward, the Arizona Republican Party chair who was walking through the hotel shortly after news broke that the Jan. 6 select committee had subpoenaed phone records of her and her husband, Michael Ward, who had both signed documents falsely claiming to be among Arizona’s presidential electors in 2020.

On the rebuke of Kinzinger and Cheney, Stephen Stepanek, the New Hampshire Republican Party state chair, said, “I don’t think there are any divisions in the party.”

By most measures, Stepanek’s read of the Republican base is right on target. Nationally, a majority of Republicans still believe Trump’s baseless claim that Biden won due to voter fraud, while Republican interest in prosecuting people who rioted at the Capitol on Jan. 6 has fallen off sharply from last year. Kinzinger chose not to run for reelection this year, while Cheney is confronting a primary challenge. Party leaders in her state voted in November not to even recognize her as a member of their party, despite her family’s long record of service to the party.

Yet the GOP is not without glaring fissures — almost all of them connected in one way or another to Trump. Privately, Palatucci said several RNC members discussed frustration with the party’s agreement to pay as much as $1.6 million to help cover Trump’s personal legal fees related to his business dealings, the Washington Post previously reported.

“Privately, there’s a lot of consternation among members,” Palatucci said. “Almost all of us this year have key races, either for the statehouse or for House or Senate — $1.6 million would go a long way in a bunch of states.”

The censure resolution passed nearly unanimously, with only a smattering of “no” votes audible in the meeting room. But it was viewed by some members either as distasteful or an unforced error.

While lambasting the Jan. 6 committee and criticizing Kinzinger’s participation in it, Don Tracy, chair of the Republican Party in Illinois, Kinzinger’s home state, said, “Generally, I’m not in favor of censuring fellow Republicans over a disagreement.”

He said, “I don’t think you build a majority by censuring fellow Republicans.”

Earlier this week, Ed Broyhill, the national committeeperson from North Carolina, said he was certain Trump would be an asset to the party in the November elections, drawing crowds to his rallies and energizing the grassroots. But he was hopeful the party could soon put “name calling” behind it and shift its focus back to Biden.

Politically, making the midterms about Biden would appear to be a far safer bet for Republicans than relitigating Jan. 6 — or the Republican House members who are involved in its investigation. In a POLITICO/Morning Consult survey this week, about 40 percent of Republicans said they approved of the work of the Jan. 6 committee — a significant portion of the Republican electorate. Nor have donors turned on Cheney and other House members who voted to impeach Trump. None of the seven who are seeking reelection were outraised by a challenger, and Cheney pulled in about $2 million just in the last 3 months alone, far outpacing the money raised by her primary opponent.

In a prepared statement, Cheney, while defending her conservative credentials, said “leaders of the Republican Party have made themselves willing hostages to a man who admits he tried to overturn a presidential election and suggests he would pardon Jan. 6 defendants, some of whom have been charged with seditious conspiracy.”

After Wyoming Republican Party leaders submitted the letter clearing the way for the RNC to fund Cheney’s primary challenger, a Cheney spokesperson accused the RNC and the Wyoming state party chair, Frank Eathorne, of “trying to assert their will and take away the voice of the people of Wyoming before a single vote has even been cast.”

Kinzinger, in a prepared statement, accused the RNC of embracing “conspiracies and toxic tribalism.”

“Rather than focus their efforts on how to help the American people, my fellow Republicans have chosen to censure two lifelong members of their party for simply upholding their oaths of office,” he said.

Predictably, the rebuttals from Cheney and Kinzinger landed in Salt Lake City as a pair of duds.

It was Cheney, not the RNC, who was distracting the party from Biden by focusing on Trump’s behavior last year, said John Wahl, chair of the Alabama Republican Party.

Paul Reynolds, the national committeeperson from Alabama, said that in censuring Cheney and Kinzinger, the RNC was simply “correcting the distraction.”

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