GOP Leadership Vacuum

[ Posted Thursday, February 8th, 2024 – 15:55 UTC ]

Donald Trump is, without doubt, the leader of the Republican Party right now. He is cruising to the Republican presidential nomination and the party's base has rallied around him almost to the exclusion of all others. But below the level of Trump, there is a growing leadership vacuum in the party, as everyone scrambles to bend whichever way the Trump winds happen to be blowing at that particular moment, while still attempting to hold the party together. This lack of secondary leadership came to the fore this week in three notable ways.

Both houses of Congress have Republican leaders who proved to be either ineffective or downright incompetent this week. Neither one could hold his caucus together to get what they wanted done actually accomplished. In the House of Representatives, what they failed to accomplish was a red-meat MAGA move, while over in the Senate they failed to accomplish a centrist compromise with Democrats. So Republicans proved their incompetence in two different ideological directions at once, within the same week. Meanwhile, the chair of the Republican National Committee -- who is about as pro-Trump as can be imagined -- is about to be eased out of her position, because now Trump isn't supporting her anymore. That's a whole lot of disarray for a party heading into an election year, you've got to admit.

In the House, Speaker Mike Johnson is proving no more adept than the last three Republican speakers at uniting his caucus. He's tossing as much red meat as he can to the Chaos Caucus folks, but he just failed in a rather spectacular way at being able to count votes, which resulted in a very embarrassing loss.

Republicans have been itching to impeach Joe Biden since the day they took control of the chamber. Their problem is that they can't find proof of anything even remotely criminal that Biden has done. In their frustration, they decided to take a different tack and instead impeach the secretary of Homeland Security, as a sort of warm-up to impeaching Biden. They also had no "high crimes or misdemeanors" to charge Alejandro Mayorkas with, so they just decided to impeach him for not being a Republican. They were so sloppy in drawing up their articles of impeachment that they even charged Mayorkas for a policy change made by the State Department. This is amateur hour, folks.

This Tuesday, Johnson moved the impeachment articles to the floor for a vote. He thought he was going to win the vote. He counted up his Republicans who were going to vote for it and weighed that against the Democrats and Republicans who would vote against it, and he thought he had the votes.

He didn't. One Democrat was wheeled into the chamber from his hospital room after undergoing abdominal surgery, just so he could cast his vote. This left the voted tied at 215-215. Unlike in the Senate, there is no "tie-breaker" in the House -- a bill that only gets a tie fails to pass. So one Republican switched their vote and the final tally was actually 214-216. This is a parliamentary move that leaves the door open to bringing it back up again for a vote, so it may pass next week when a Republican who has been on the sick list will also return to the floor to vote. Mayorkas isn't out of the woods yet, but even if they do manage to pass the impeachment, the failure of the first vote was a complete embarrassment for Johnson, and led to plenty of "Republicans In Disarray" headlines.

Over in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to have lost all influence over his caucus. McConnell is a rare Republican who doesn't publicly bend his knee to Trump -- the two men have reportedly not even spoken since the January 6th insurrection attempt, in fact. And McConnell occasionally charts his own course without caring whether Trump approves of it or not. But this week saw a showdown between Trump's influence on Republican senators and McConnell's. To be blunt, Trump won. McConnell wound up looking weak.

Republicans have been holding a package of foreign aid (to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan) hostage, as leverage to pass what they wanted to, which was a border security bill. Negotiations took months, but the Republicans finally wore the Democrats down and got most of what they were looking for in the deal. This deal was supposed to be attached to the foreign aid parts and voted on this week. It failed, after Trump came out very strongly against the deal. Trump would much rather the border problems continue, so he can use it as a campaign issue. He wasn't interested in actually solving any of the problems at all. So the Republicans who had pushed for the border deal -- a better deal than Republicans have managed in decades, mind you -- were left out in the cold. In the end, Mitch couldn't corral more than a handful of GOP votes for the compromise. In remarks after the defeat, McConnell looked not just weak but almost powerless to influence the senators he's theoretically supposed to be leading. His usual smug confidence was just gone.

Now the Senate is going to move on the foreign aid part of the bill without any border security deal at all. The Republicans are giving up their own leverage, in other words. They are passing the part that Democrats wanted and they're going to get nothing in return. That's a clear failure of political tactics, it would seem. If such a deal does pass the Senate (a preliminary motion to move the bill along got a whopping 67 votes today), its chances in the House are really anyone's guess. Many GOP House members will essentially vote with Vladimir Putin, since they do not support continued military aid to Ukraine. But there may be enough Republicans and enough Democrats to pass the measure anyway. We'll have to see what happens next week (and this weekend -- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated the Senate won't be allowed to start their two-week vacation until the bill is finished, which may mean senators spending Super Bowl Sunday in Washington).

Ronna McDaniel, chair of the R.N.C., has held on longer than most Republicans in the Trump era. She's always been pro-Trump and even changed her public name when he objected to her using her maiden name "Romney" in the middle of it (she is Mitt Romney's niece, which she used to be proud of, until Trump took a disliking to him). She has been similarly faithful to Trump's wishes in leading the party's central committee, for the most part, although her refusal to just shut down the entire debate and primary process and anoint Trump the party's nominee has been getting under Trump's skin for months. So now she's on her way out, reportedly.

McDaniel may wind up being a scapegoat who Trump and his followers can blame for the party's epic losses in the past three election cycles. The real reason for these losses is Trump himself, but Donald Trump's never going to take one iota of blame for anything, so after she leaves it will become convenient to lay it all at her feet instead.

This will leave the party's apparatus in the hands of someone new, right before a presidential election. Trump is reportedly thinking about installing a true MAGA believer (an election-denier, of course) to chair the party. The R.N.C. will become subservient to his campaign.

To sum up, right now we are seeing chaos in the Republican House, chaos from the Republicans in the Senate, and the Republican National Committee about to be handed over to a new leader right before an election. It doesn't even seem to matter whether these secondary party leaders are fully faithful to Trump or not -- the one thing they all seem to have in common is a lack of any signs of true leadership whatsoever. Or competence -- perhaps that's a better way to put it.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


3 Comments on “GOP Leadership Vacuum”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Ah well, that's one of the drawbacks of personality cult politics; nobody sane wants to take subservient "leadership" positions.

  2. [2] 
    Kick wrote:

    Republicans have been itching to impeach Joe Biden since the day they took control of the chamber.

    Literally filed articles of impeachment against President Biden just one day after he was sworn in... Empty Greene (R-GA).

    Their problem is that they can't find proof of anything even remotely criminal that Biden has done.

    Well, Republicans got a gift today from (yet) another Republican who recommended no charges be filed against Biden but then proceeded to "do a number" on his reputation anyway (against DOJ guidelines).

    Pertinent Question: Should we call this "getting Hillaried" or "being Comeyed"? Maybe both.

    Regardless, Republicans got some fresh ammunition today from the Department of Justice; if you think they won't try to impeach Biden with its contents, please pay better attention. :)

  3. [3] 
    Kick wrote:


    Regardless, Republicans got some fresh ammunition today from the Department of Justice; if anyone thinks they won't try to impeach Biden with its contents, please pay better attention. :)

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