Animosity is rising between the two factions, threatening to disrupt unity at a time when national parties typically want to congeal around a consistent theme, message, and especially, candidate.
Now, Republicans are growing wary that the growing divide in their party will weaken their ability to compete with Democrats for the 2024 presidential election.
Indeed, if the Republican feud over Trump fully ignites, Republicans may defeat themselves in 2024.
GOP Establishment Begrudgingly Accepts Trump
Trump has always been a polarizing figure. He’s brash, uncouth, and inconsiderate. He mocks decorum and procedure and generally seems more concerned with personal interests over national or global interests. In short, he’s a schmuck.
But, for a long time, Trump also represented the Republican party’s best chance at winning the presidency. So establishment Republicans swallowed their pride (and their disbelief) and supported Trump.
When Trump burst onto the political scene in 2015, entering the 2016 presidential race from the fringes, he was not taken seriously. The GOP establishment was invested in mainstream candidates like Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz. But as Trump’s popularity surged, as it became clear that a cult of personality was forming around the real estate mogul, the GOP recalibrated, recognizing that Trump was their ticket to the White House.
Although the GOP establishment accepted Trump, and promoted Trump, the arrangement was born of pragmatism. Because although Trump was brash and uncouth and inconsiderate, deep down he was just a generic Republican hocking small government and low taxes. Trump was not the GOP’s preferred vehicle for promoting the conservative agenda – but he got them there all the same. So, the establishment bit their tongue and made it work. Until it didn’t work anymore, that is.
GOP Establishment Looks Beyond Trump
Trump lost the 2020 presidential election after serving just one term. The election, which was mostly understood to be a referendum on Trump, demonstrated that large swaths of the country were ready to move beyond Trump. The same thing happened in 2021 and 2022. Trump-endorsed candidates were trounced, demonstrating concretely that Trump’s stock was falling among voters – especially in the ultra-important battleground states that ultimately decide elections. 2022 was especially informative. Trump endorsees lost every battleground race but one.
So, naturally, the GOP establishment is ready to move on; they’ll only accommodate Trump’s shortcomings as long as he’s a winning horse, as long as he is a viable vehicle to promote the conservative agenda. Since Trump no longer appears like a lock to win a national election, the GOP establishment wants to move past the one-term president. It’s the pragmatic thing to do. But the fervently loyal MAGA base, which has proliferated within the GOP itself (especially at the state level) is holding out. Trump is MAGA’s guy, their demagogue.
There is no alternative, really.
Resultantly, the GOP is arriving at an impasse that has been building for nearly a decade. The coming conflict may resemble something like a civil war, pitting the establishment pragmatists against the MAGA ideologues. In the short term, GOP internal conflict has the potential to hand Democrats an easy victory in 2024. In the longer term, the conflict promises to reshape the contours of the Republican party for a generation.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken.