Feb 13, 2024 - Politics & Policy

GOP's old guard on verge of extinction as Trump allies circle Senate

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump gestures to members of the audience as he leaves a Get Out The Vote rally at Coastal Carolina University

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Just two of the 17 Republicans who have become senators since former President Trump took office in 2017 voted Tuesday to pass the Senate's foreign aid bill.

Why it matters: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has outlasted all the other major GOP leaders from the pre-Trump era, but he's running out of soldiers.

Zoom in: Trump isn't just pretending that he's won the Republican nomination — he's acting like it, directing his loyalists across the government and party apparatus.

  • At the Republican National Committee, Trump is pushing to install his daughter-in-law Lara Trump, election denier Michael Whatley, and campaign senior adviser Chris LaCivita as a triumvirate of loyal leaders.
  • The Senate GOP's campaign arm endorsed Trump-backed Kari Lake in Arizona on Tuesday — a huge vote of confidence for a type of candidate that McConnell has warned against supporting in the past.
  • McConnell and Senate GOP Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) are now a minority within a minority: Elected Republicans who refuse to endorse Trump despite his clear path to the nomination.

State of play: A small but vocal group of Senate conservatives helped blow up a bipartisan border deal backed by McConnell and derided by Trump. The whole process led to renewed calls for the GOP leader's ouster by his critics.

  • McConnell managed to pass the foreign aid deal with support from just 21 of the 49 Republicans in his conference.
  • Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a long-time supporter of Ukraine, voted against the bill and publicly embraced Trump's plan to structure aid as a "loan."

What he's saying: "I've been with the minority of my members on raising the debt ceiling, on funding the government," McConnell told Politico's Burgess Everett.

  • "There are just some issues that come along that are so important: You have to do the best you can."
  • Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) told Punchbowl News he has no plans to bring the Senate-passed bill to the floor anytime soon.

The bottom line: "Are we gonna let him just take over the party that's gonna control the convention, too?" Nikki Haley, Trump's last remaining GOP primary opponent, asked on Fox News. "We don't have kings in this country."

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