Nov 14, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP civil war

Illustration of a tiny elephant about to be crushed by the foot of a giant one

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A Republican civil war is erupting at virtually every level of the party, triggered by an underwhelming midterm performance that threatens to destabilize the ranks of Senate, House and national GOP leadership.

Why it matters: This is only the beginning. Election disappointments always lead to recriminations, but the feuds now roiling the GOP run far deeper than conventional policy disagreements. And with an entrenched leader like former President Trump planning his comeback announcement Tuesday, there’s little chance for peace talks.

What's happening: Trump lashed out at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last week, as conservative media — including the Murdoch-owned Fox News, New York Post and Wall Street Journal opinion section — became rife with talk of DeSantis overtaking him as the most viable 2024 GOP presidential nominee.

  • The conservative Club for Growth, once a staunch Trump ally, sent a warning shot on the eve of Trump's likely 2024 announcement by commissioning a new poll showing he trails DeSantis by double-digits in Iowa and New Hampshire, Politico scooped.
  • That follows a national YouGov poll released Friday that found 42% of Republicans and Republican-leaners prefer DeSantis to be the nominee, compared to 35% for Trump, with similar figures in Texas reported Monday in a poll commissioned by the Texas GOP.
  • Longtime allies and advisers to Trump have urged him to postpone his 2024 announcement, largely to avoid sabotaging Republican Herschel Walker in the Georgia Senate runoff — but there are no indications he's been deterred.

In the Senate, a Wall Street Journal story detailing the poisonous relationship between Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and campaign chief Rick Scott (R-Fla.) featured stunning on-the-record quotes from both offices blaming each other for the midterm debacle.

  • The NRSC "was run basically as a Rick Scott super PAC, where they didn’t want or need to input any Republican senators whatsoever," former McConnell chief of staff Josh Holmes told the Journal.
  • "[I]nsecure small people never accept responsibility for failure," Scott adviser Curt Anderson shot back.
  • Scott has been joined by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in calling for leadership elections to be delayed, with Hawley tweeting: "The old party is dead. Time to bury it. Build something new."
  • Scott himself has left the door open to challenging McConnell for the leadership role, though the Kentucky Republican insists he has the votes to win.

In the House, right-wing Freedom Caucus members are plotting a challenge to GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in his bid to be nominated for House speaker on Tuesday.

  • Several Freedom Caucus members and incoming House Republicans — many of whom arrived in D.C. on Sunday for new member orientation — told Axios they believe the vote should be delayed.
  • But Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said Monday that challenging McCarthy is "risky" and a "bad strategy" — breaking with her far-right allies and revealing new divisions even within the Trump wing of the party.

At the RNC, chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is seeking re-election but facing a new potential challenge from Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), whose stronger-than-expected performance in the New York governor's race has paved the way for a more national profile.

What we're watching: Brendan Buck, a former aide to House Speaker Paul Ryan and John Boehner, floated a hypothetical scenario in which a challenger defeats Trump in the 2024 GOP primary. "What then are the chances Trump wouldn’t entirely sabotage that person in the general election?" Buck tweeted.

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