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Wake Up To Politics - June 20, 2022

Is the battle for the GOP already over?
Wake Up To Politics - June 20, 2022

by Gabe Fleisher

Good morning! It’s Monday, June 20, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 141 days away. Election Day 2024 is 869 days away.

Today is the federal holiday marking Juneteenth, which commemorates the anniversary of the 1865 announcement in Texas that slavery had been abolished. Texas was the last state to receive that message, two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

The anniversary was yesterday, but the newly declared federal holiday is today because June 19 fell on a Sunday.

I’ll have more on Juneteenth later down, but first: I want to talk a bit about some developments from over the weekend within the GOP...

Analysis: Is the battle for the Republican Party already over?

After an 18-month hiatus from dominating American life, former President Donald Trump is creeping back into the national consciousness.

His starring role as the lead villain in the January 6th committee hearings — along with his active involvement in Republican primaries and efforts to tease a third presidential bid — has brought Trump back as a lead character for this season in the country’s political drama, after a string of episodes spent mostly in the background.

As questions about his future abound, Trump may be the only person in modern American history (at least since Richard Nixon in 1972) for whom conservations so easily veer between whether he will be prosecuted by the Justice Department and whether a major party will propose him for the presidency.

There have been some recent setbacks for Trump’s political project, and those have been well documented, from aides turning on him in the January 6th hearing room to a handful of of his endorsees coming up short.

But focusing on those losses and desertions makes it easy to miss the bigger picture: Whether or not the GOP opts to nominate Trump himself for a third consecutive time, Trumpism is winning the battle for the soul of the Republican Party — in a landslide. It’s not clear there’s even a fight.

President Trump visiting Texas before the end of his term in 2021. (White House)

Don’t believe me? Here are three developments from just the past few days:

1) In Texas, the state Republican Party met for its convention in Houston this weekend, and came away with a platform that is as far-right as any in the country. Among other provisions, the party declared that President Biden “was not legitimately elected” in 2020 and deemed homosexuality to be “an abnormal lifestyle choice.”

Remember, this is the Republican Party in the nation’s largest GOP-controlled state, staking out positions in opposition to a free and fair election and to the rights of gay people.

Even conservative members of the Texas congressional delegation faced charges of impurity at the convention, including Sen. John Cornyn (who was booed and formally rebuked for his work on a bipartisan gun control package) and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (who was physically accosted by right-wing activists calling him “Eyepatch McCain”).

2) In Indiana, another candidate who has embraced Trump’s fictions about the 2020 vote received a GOP nomination to oversee elections. Delegates at the state’s Republican convention denied renomination to Holli Sullivan, the incumbent secretary of state, and instead put forward Diego Morales for the post.

Morales, who has twice left the Indiana secretary of state’s office as a staffer after being disciplined by bosses for his behavior, has called the 2020 election a “scam” and focused his campaign around proposing restrictions on voting in the name of “election integrity.” (Morales has walked back the “scam” label, although he has maintained that there were “a number of irregularities” in the election.)

The surprise nomination of Morales over Sullivan has sparked the possibility of a Democratic victory in the race, with veteran Indiana political reporter Adam Wren deeming it the “first time in a decade” that Indiana Democrats have had a “real chance” at winning a statewide election.

3) In Michigan, the state’s Republican primary for governor keeps getting crazier. First, five candidates were kicked off the ballot after officials found that their ballot petitions had too many fraudulent signatures. Then, another candidate for the post — Ryan Kelley — was arrested by the FBI for his role in the January 6th riot at the Capitol.

But get ready for this twist: Since Kelley was indicted, he’s only shot to the head of the GOP pack. A poll released by the Detroit Free Press late last week found Kelley leading the gubernatorial primary, albeit with just 17% of the vote, a four-point advantage over his nearest rival in the crowded race.

The poll came out just around the time that a judge ordered him to surrender his firearms while he awaits trial.

Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw was physically accosted at his own state party’s convention this weekend. (Gage Skidmore)

And what was Trump doing this weekend, as his acolytes across the country rose within the party’s ranks?

Suggesting that he would pardon the January 6 rioters if he returns to the White House and once again attacking Mike Pence, only one day after the January 6th committee made the case that Trump’s rhetoric about his running mate had led to threats against Pence’s life.

Of course, this weekend’s developments alone do not guarantee the direction of the party.

There is still time — and possibly prosecutions — between now and 2024 for Trump’s status to change. (Two years is a lifetime in politics: in 2014, certainly, no one would have predicted Trump would be on the Republican ticket.)

But as I’ve noted previously, whoever the GOP presidential nominee is in 2024, it will almost certainly be someone in Trump’s mold, even if it is not the former president himself.

For the 2022 cycle, surely, it is increasingly obvious that Trumpism will be the party’s dominant strain.

Candidates like Morales and Kelley are not the only proof points: a Washington Post tally found that, through the end of May, Republican primary voters had chosen at least 108 nominees for statewide office or Congress who have repeated Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.

Part of what’s striking about the party’s midterm push towards Trumpism is how unpopular many of its positions are. Trump is talking about pardoning the January 6 rioters, even though 69% of the country says it is “very important” for them to be prosecuted.

The Texas convention announced oppositions to any gun control measures and to LGBT rights, although both are supported by large swaths of the nation.

Historical trends suggest that Republicans will barely suffer for those positions this November. Typically speaking, the incumbent president’s party fails to mobilize during a midterm year, while a surge of enthusiasm for the opposing party sweeps them to electoral victories across the country.

All available polling data indicates this year will be no different, with President Biden’s approval ratings (including among key constituencies) collapsing as gas prices continue to rise, among other crises facing the White House.

That means the GOP is poised to see a triumphant November, and will very possibly experience more benefits than backlash from nominating Trumpist candidates, a takeaway Trump will not allow them to forget (even if the wins can largely be attributed to the broader political environment, one which will likely shift when a presidential contest is back on top of the ballot.)

On the other hand, if the “red wave” rolls everywhere but in races with farther-right candidates like Kelley or Morales (or states with platforms like Texas’), GOP leaders are likely to take close notice.

Whatever they may portend, the GOP is sure to take the lessons of 2022 into 2024 and beyond, meaning the developments of this past weekend (and of the months ahead) could prove consequential for the future of the Republican Party.

And with many of the Trumpist candidates in question vying for control of the levers of election administration, consequences for the health of our democracy might just be lingering in tandem.

Trump supporters protesting after the 2020 election. (Chad Davis)

What’s going on in government today

All times Eastern.

— President Biden is at his vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where he spent the holiday weekend. He’ll depart Rehoboth Beach (8:15 pm) and return to the White House (9:10 pm) tonight.

— The House and Senate are not meeting today due to Juneteenth.

— The Supreme Court has nothing on tap either.

Before I go...

Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021 when President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.

The new holiday — only the 11th on the federal calendar — was largely the handiwork of Opal Lee, a 95-year-old Texan who spent years advocating for the day to be recognized.

Read more via USA Today on the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” and what she’s working on now.

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If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.

Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe