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September 12, 2017

What’s the Point of Republican Infighting?

If there was ever a time when the GOP should be accomplishing a lot, it’s now. And they’re not.

If there was ever a time when Republicans in Washington should be accomplishing a lot, it’s now. Sadly, since the election of Donald Trump and with Republicans holding majorities in both the House and the Senate, much of the president’s agenda is stalled. Republicans have failed to push it through simply because there is so much infighting within the party. No wonder people hate the swamp.

Republicans in Congress are acting more like a fratricidal circus than a political party. At a time when they should be uniting together, advancing a conservative agenda (or at least rolling back some of the last eight years) and working for the people who elected them, the opposite is happening. Thus, virtually nothing is being done, and if something is accomplished it’s usually so full of compromises with Democrats that it doesn’t make a difference.

Trump won the election because people are fed up with the political class in Washington, and Trump promised to take down the establishment. He campaigned on “draining the swamp,” and his strident rhetoric, nationalist sentiments and populist appeal resonated for many. People overall were — and still are — tired of their senators and representatives not doing what they said they would do once they arrived in Washington, and people were — and still are — hoping Trump could change the status quo.

As Rich Lowry writes, “If Republicans didn’t hate their own leaders, Trump never would have won the nomination or become president in the first place.”

Since the election, however, little has changed within the halls of Congress. Specifically, Republicans in Congress who have been there for decades have opposed Trump’s agenda since before he was even elected. They clearly did not get the message that people were tired of the business-as-usual mentality in Washington.

Enter Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Bannon, who left the White House in August, has returned to Breitbart News and is the executive chairman of the website. Since leaving his post in the Trump administration Bannon has basically re-declared war against Republicans in Congress. During an interview with CBS’s Charlie Rose on “60 Minutes,” Bannon made it very clear that he will be leading an effort to oust those Republicans in Congress who have been an affront to Trump’s agenda.

Bannon accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) of “trying to nullify the 2016 election.” He blames them for failing to repeal and replace ObamaCare and said, “They’re not going to help you unless they are put on notice.” He added, “They’re going to be held accountable if they do not support the president of the United States. Right now, there’s no accountability.”

Bannon has decided to lead an effort to back several primary challengers to incumbent candidates in the upcoming 2018 election.

Bannon also made a bold prediction about the 2020 election, saying that the outcome will depend on which party can best capture the populism that has soared in our country. He argues that if Trump is able to deliver on his populist promises and if Republicans make gains in both the House and the Senate in the 2018 midterm elections, then Trump will win re-election in a landslide.

To be sure, Bannon’s effort could be costly for conservatives, if not for him. He’s a diehard nationalist and, for him, if his primary challengers defeat incumbent Republicans but lose in the general election to Democrats, there’s a sense in which it’s still a win. Why? Because Bannon himself is not the most conservative individual on all matters and, for him, beating entrenched Republicans but losing to Democrats would send a message to the Old Guard GOP members that the populist movement is indeed a force to be reckoned with. And that’s a moneymaker for Breitbart

Bannon’s move could also backfire in a very bad way. If Democrats regain control of Congress, they will no doubt try everything possible to impeach Trump.

In one respect, Bannon’s political calculation looks very appealing to many conservatives. We have been lied to over and over again by Republicans in office who claim to be principled conservatives that, if given control of the House, the Senate and the presidency, would advance a conservative agenda. That has not happened and many people have had enough. There are too many elected Republicans in Washington who claim to be conservative until it comes down to voting — then they end up opposing conservatives.

Of the infighting, Philip Wegmann explains the cost: “Warring against each other while wearing the same uniform, Republicans often obscure their own position. This type of infighting sunk healthcare the first time around and now threatens to torpedo tax reform. It’s brutal and messy and, for now, it occurs mostly behind closed doors.”

So the question facing all Republicans, including Bannon, is this: What’s the point of the infighting? Is it to pass the agenda, or is it little more than vendetta and grandstanding? We don’t know that answer, and it likely differs for the various players. But if the GOP wants to remain in the majority and accomplish something, each Republican will have to answer.

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