Republicans face bitter division; no clear way forward

Ronna McDaniel is the longest serving chair of the Republican National Committee since the Civil War. But now she must face a modern day civil war within the GOP.

Frustrated Republicans from state capitals to Capitol Hill to the luxury Southern California hotel where RNC members gathered this week are at odds over how to undo six years of election disappointments. And while there are many strong sentiments, even among the fighting factions, there is no consensus on what people, strategies, or political tactics they should adopt.

On one side: a growing number of elected officials eager to move beyond former President Trump’s divisive politics and personality, despite having no clear alternative. And on the flip side, the GOP’s vocal, “Make America Great Again” wing, still lacking a coherent agenda, is quick to attack the status quo in both parties.

“It will be extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, for Ronna McDaniel to put the pieces back together,” said Republican fundraiser Caroline Wren, a leading voice in the coalition of far-right activists, conservative media leaders and locally elected officials across the country, who fought and didn’t defeat McDaniel. “These people are not easily forgotten.”

As RNC members packed up from the ballroom at Waldorf Astoria on Friday, there was broad agreement that McDaniel’s re-election alone would do little to heal the chasm plaguing her party, even as she celebrated a remarkably decisive reelection victory.

Trump was quick to congratulate McDaniel on his social media platform after privately helping her campaign. But conservative activist Charlie Kirk, a Trump loyalist, likened McDaniel’s successful re-election to a “middle finger” for the GOP’s grassroots, which has called for changes in the institution that directs the party’s political activities.

“The country club won today,” Kirk said from the back of the ballroom at Waldorf Astoria, where RNC members from across the country voted to give McDaniel another two-year term. “So, the grassroots folks who can’t afford steak and are struggling to make ends meet have just been told by their reps at an opulent $900 hotel, ‘We hate you guys.'”

A similar sentiment shook the Republican Party on Capitol Hill earlier this month as Kevin McCarthy struggled through days of embarrassing defeats in his bid to become Speaker of the House before surrendering to demands from the anti-establishment MAGA fringe added.

McCarthy’s inability to scrutinize the hard-line Trump loyalists in his conference now threatens to undermine a high-stakes vote on the nation’s debt ceiling that could send shockwaves through the US economy if not resolved soon. So far, the Republicans in the House of Representatives have not formulated any concrete demands.

Some see the Republican split as a byproduct of the GOP’s years-long adoption of Trumpism, a political ideology defined by its relentless focus on a common enemy and a willingness to fight that perceived enemy at all costs.

McDaniel has repeatedly highlighted the dangers of GOP fights as she campaigned for an unprecedented fourth term as RNC chair. On Friday, she pleaded for Republican unity while citing a Bible verse once used by former President Lincoln before the Civil War.

“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand,” said McDaniel from the ballroom podium. “Nothing we do is more important than making sure Joe Biden is a one-term president. But for that we must be united.”

It may get worse before it gets better.

The conclusion of the RNC’s winter meeting marks the unofficial start of the 2024 presidential primary. Trump has already launched his candidacy and promises to wage a bitter campaign against possible Republican competitors.

The RNC is in the process of planning the first Republican primary debates, which are expected to be held in late July or early August in Milwaukee, site of the party’s next national convention.

While he’s been slow to get into the campaign trail since announcing a 2024 bid last November, Trump has events in New Hampshire and South Carolina this weekend. Given the former president’s political weaknesses, up to a dozen high-profile Republicans are expected to run against him in the coming months.

Should he fail to win the next GOP presidential nomination, Trump has already eyed the possibility of a third-party presidential nomination that would almost ensure Democrats victory in the White House again in 2024.

New Hampshire-based RNC member Juliana Bergeron reflected on the state of her party as she prepared to take a red-eye flight home to attend Trump’s appearance on Saturday. The New Hampshire GOP is working its way through its own bitter leadership feud.

“The party in New Hampshire is divided. The party is divided nationally. I just think there’s a lot of space between the far right and some of us,” Bergeron said.

“I think it’s over,” she said when asked about Trump. “I want to see a new generation out there.”

And there are some signs that Trump’s MAGA movement may also be ready to move on. Some privately admitted that Trump had lost control of his own movement working to defeat McDaniel, even as the former president and his lieutenants tried to help her.

While Trump declined to publicly endorse McDaniel, Wren said it wouldn’t have changed the grassroots demand for a new GOP leadership even if he had.

“We’re not just sheep following a single recommendation everywhere,” Wren said. “We want to win elections and we don’t win elections.”

In fact, Republicans may need successful national elections to get back together. The next federal election? November 5, 2024.

“The hard work begins now to bring our party together,” said former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus, a former RNC chairman who supported McDaniel’s re-election. “That will not be easy.”