11 min read

The four rings of GOP infighting

All over Washington, Republicans are facing off against other Republicans as the party wrestles with its post-midterm future.
The four rings of GOP infighting

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, November 16, 2022. The 2024 elections are 720 days away.

In this morning’s newsletter: An update on the growing dissent within the Republican Party. A look at the Democrats after the midterms. The latest from Poland. Answering a reader question about filing for president. And a rundown of what’s going on in Washington today.

If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

Republicans wrestle with party’s future on multiple fronts

All week, I’ve been covering the drama playing out within the Republican Party since the GOP experienced disappointments up and down the ballot during the midterms.

Tuesday brought a flurry of new developments to this story, so let’s take them one by one. Here’s an update in each of the four rings of GOP infighting going on right now:

Trump announces 2024 bid

Even as many Republicans identify him as the main culprit for their midterm losses, former President Donald Trump became the first member of the party to announce a 2024 presidential campaign on Tuesday — nearly two years before the next election.

“America’s comeback starts right now,” said Trump, who was impeached twice during his four years in office and left the White House days after inciting a mob of his supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol. The speech, which was littered with exaggerations and inaccuracies, was derided by many who watched it as “low energy,” a favorite Trump epithet.

During his address, Trump painted a portrait of two Americas: the “great and glorious nation” that prospered during the time he led it and the “nation in decline” that he said has existed under President Joe Biden.

But each day brings new Republicans who go public with their readiness to move on from Trump, a stark change from the years of fealty he has become accustomed to from party leaders. That includes two Republican billionaire megadonors: Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, who called Trump a “three-time loser,” and Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, who told Axios this morning that he intends to support someone from the GOP’s “new generation of leaders” in the 2024 primaries.

“America does better when its leaders are rooted in today and tomorrow, not today and yesterday,” Schwarzman said.

Trump’s prospective 2024 rivals are also growing increasingly comfortable taking shots at him, a sign that he will by no means coast to the nomination unscathed. Asked about Trump on Tuesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis  — widely seen as the ex-president’s most formidable foe — bragged about their comparative midterm performances.

“At the end of the day, I would just tell people to go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night,” he said. (Nearly every Trump-endorsed candidate in a battleground state lost, while DeSantis won by double digits.)

Meanwhile, Trump’s announcement came — apparently not accidentally — right in the middle of former Vice President Mike Pence’s book tour. Although the book largely pulls its punches, Pence has made his most critical comments on Trump yet in recent interviews. The ex-VP told ABC News that Trump’s January 6th post-election rhetoric and actions were “reckless,” while commenting to the New York Times on Trump’s run in 2024: “I think we’ll have better choices.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reportedly went after Trump during an annual meeting of GOP governors on Tuesday — and drew “huge applause.” Even Ivanka Trump, the ex-president’s daughter, told Fox News that she does “not plan to be involved” during this campaign.

What I’m watching: What does a two-year-long campaign for the presidency look like? Was Trump’s announcement merely an attention ploy, or will he actually kick off a real campaign immediately? It’s unclear whether we should expect constant rallies and advertising starting now, or just more of the same from the former president.

Trump announcing his 2024 bid. (Jason Miller / Twitter)

Scott launches McConnell challenge

In his 16 years as the top Senate Republican, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell has never faced a challenge to his leadership. Until now.

Channeling anger that Republicans will linger in the Senate minority for another two years, Florida Sen. Rick Scott announced Tuesday that he will run against McConnell in this morning’s leadership elections. “If you simply want to stick with the status quo, don’t vote for me,” Scott wrote in a letter to his GOP colleagues.

Scott’s challenge to McConnell has sparked an extraordinary amount of public back-and-forth between advisers to the two senators — who are both currently colleagues on the GOP leadership team — as their aides snipe at each other in the pages of the Wall Street Journal and on Twitter. The Floridian, after all, is an imperfect messenger for arguments about the GOP’s midterm losses: he led the Senate Republican campaign committee during the 2022 cycle.

In a three-hour closed-door caucus meeting on Tuesday, Scott reportedly rose to criticize McConnell’s recent compromises with Democrats, while McConnell accused Scott of mismanaging the Senate GOP campaign arm.

McConnell is widely expected to triumph during the leadership election, but that any high-profile senator is challenging him at all reveals the extent of the frustration burbling within the GOP after the midterms. The election is scheduled for today, although Scott and other senators are seeking to postpone it.

“I have the votes, I will be elected,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “The only issue is whether we do it sooner or later.”

What I’m watching: How will this intraparty fight impact the Georgia Senate runoff next month? As minority leader and campaign chairman, McConnell and Scott should ostensibly be working together to bolster Herschel Walker — how will that work as they run against each other? The infighting already appears to be getting in the way of the runoff, as McConnell and Scott aides publicly argue about their strategies in Georgia.

Sen. Rick Scott has announced a challenge to Mitch McConnell. (Gage Skidmore) 

McCarthy survives — for now

On the other side of the Capitol, California Rep. Kevin McCarthy was easily elected Tuesday as the Republican nominee to be speaker of the House in the next Congress.

The margin — 188 votes for McCarthy, 31 for Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs — may seem like a landslide for the sitting GOP leader, but it masks the trouble that could lie ahead for McCarthy. While Tuesday’s nominating vote only required support from a majority of House Republicans, in order to be elected speaker in January, McCarthy must receive a majority vote from the full House.

With Republicans only expected to take the majority by a few seats, that means basically every GOP member will have to support him — including the 31 conservatives who opposed him on Tuesday. McCarthy’s challenge for the next 14 weeks, then, will be bargaining with his Republican detractors for their support.

Even if McCarthy scrapes it out the end, it will likely require him to make significant concessions that would weaken him once he claims the speakership. Biggs and other House Freedom Caucus members are seeking sweeping changes to the House rules, hoping to snatch away the speaker’s sway over committee assignments and legislative scheduling and give it to the rank-and-file. They also hope to restore a procedural process that allows for one member to trigger a vote to oust the speaker at any time.

What I’m watching: What does McCarthy have to give up to become speaker? If the Freedom Caucus truly does hold out until he grants them all their desired rules changes, it could end up barely being a job worth seeking. Anyone remember what happened to John Boehner?

Rep. Andy Biggs ran against Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday. (Gage Skidmore)

RNC chief faces potential challenges

Finally, the post-midterm calls for change are extending to the Republican National Committee as well. RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is planning to run again for a fourth term leading the party, but murmurs are growing that she could face a challenger.

Per NBC News, New York Rep. Lee Zeldin — who came within six points of ousting his state’s governor last week — has spoken with party officials and activists about seeking the post. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has also reportedly been fielding calls about running for RNC chair.

Noem went public with her criticism of McDaniel in a Wall Street Journal interview won Tuesday. “Who loses this much and gets to keep their job,” she asked. “We’ve got to evaluate the leadership of the Republican Party.”

What I’m watching: How does McDaniel handle the Trump question? The RNC has been paying the ex-president’s legal bills, which McDaniel said would stop once Trump announces a 2024 campaign. Will her attempts to stay neutral in the primary lead Trump allies to try and take the chairmanship from her?

What about the Democrats?

Even though they are on track to lose the House, Democrats are riding high internally — and staying united — after beating expectations in the midterms.

In terms of 2024, Biden advisers view Trump’s announcement as making it more likely that he will run again; the midterm results have — at least for now — quieted any calls within the party that he should step aside.

Although Biden declined to comment on his predecessor during an international summit Tuesday, the White House is already gearing up for a campaign against Trump. During the speech, Biden’s personal Twitter account posted a video attacking the former president, with the caption “Donald Trump failed America.”

The White House also chose Tuesday to launch a new webpage outlining the Biden administration’s accomplishments.

In the House, Democrats are in limbo as they wait to see whether House speaker Nancy Pelosi will step down or stick around for another term. Pelosi pledged in 2018 that she would exit Democratic leadership after four years, but she has yet to indicate whether she will stick to that promise. (Per Politico, Biden has expressed his preference that she stay.)

The field of possible replacements is frozen in place until Pelosi announces her intentions — but, if she does decide to step down, it would mark a tectonic shift in Congress, as Democrats struggle to replace perhaps the most powerful lawmaker of the 21st century. New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, currently the No. 4 House Democrat, is expected to run if Pelosi doesn’t, although he may have to run against her No. 2, Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

Finally, there is no drama for Democrats in the Senate as Majority Leader Chuck Schumer faces no challenges for the post after a successful midterm cycle.

The biggest question in Democratic politics right now: what will Nancy Pelosi do? (Gage Skidmore)

🚨 What else you should know

➞ POLAND: “NATO member Poland and the head of the military alliance both said Wednesday a missile strike in Polish farmland that killed two people did not appear to be an intentional attack, and that air defenses in neighboring Ukraine likely launched the Soviet-era projectile against a Russian bombardment that savaged its power grid.” AP

➞ IN THE COURTS: “A U.S. judge on Tuesday ruled a pandemic-era order used to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants to Mexico was unlawful, a decision that could have major implications for U.S. border management.” Reuters

  • “A Georgia Superior Court judge has overturned the state’s law banning abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy, ruling it unconstitutional and saying it cannot be enforced.” CNN

➞ THE RUNOFF: “Raphael Warnock’s campaign sued Georgia on Tuesday after the state said it would not offer Saturday early voting for the closely watched runoff in which Warnock is seeking re-election to the U.S. Senate.” The Guardian

➞ QUITE A HEADLINE: “Dianne Feinstein could be third in line to the presidency as Senate president pro tempore. She appears unaware that she's already declined the job.” Insider  

President Biden meeting with world leaders on Tuesday about the missile strike in Poland. (White House)

🤔 Ask Gabe: What changes once a presidential candidate announces?

Jared M. from Newton, MA asks: “I remember hearing that there are some legal/financial implications for when a candidate officially declares their candidacy. That’s why sometimes they start with an ‘exploratory committee’ before officially running. Are there different rules for how Trump (or anyone else) can raise or spend money once they officially declare they are running?”

Yes, there are! Just as Jared said, presidential contenders are bound by very different fundraising and spending rules once they have announced their candidacies — which is why candidates often hold off from announcing their bids (a route Trump obviously did not take).

Before Tuesday, Trump had two primary political vehicles: Save America (a leadership PAC) and MAGA Inc. (a super PAC). Donors can give $5,000 per year to leadership PACs and unlimited sums to super PACs. But the new entity Trump formed on Tuesday, Donald J. Trump for President 2024, is a presidential campaign committee – which means it can only take in $2,900 per election from donors.

(And, no, before you ask: Trump can’t just slide over funds from his two PACs to his campaign. Leadership PACs can only donate to other candidates besides its founder and a super PAC can’t directly aid candidates at all, meaning Trump can no longer coordinate with or pull funds from MAGA Inc. after Tuesday.)

In addition to the stricter fundraising limits, there are also new limits on how Trump can use the money he raises. Unlike PAC money, which can be used pretty much however the organization wants, official campaign funds are not allowed to go to personal use. For example, campaigns cannot pay for a candidate’s clothes, household supplies, or personal tickets to concerts or sporting events.

As a presidential candidate, Trump also must file a personal financial disclosure form within 30 days — another reason politicians sometimes delay announcing for office. As Jared said, candidates will often form exploratory committees while considering a run: unlike campaign committees, which have regular reporting requirements, these committees offer the perk of not having to disclose their donors (at least until the candidate announces).

🗓 What your leaders are doing today

All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch it.

Executive Branch

President Biden is currently flying back to Washington from Bali, Indonesia. He’ll touch down in D.C. at midnight tonight, after refueling stops in Guam and Honolulu. Late last night, before leaving Bali, the president held his first meeting with newly minted UK prime minister Rishi Sunak.

Vice President Harris will depart today for Bangkok, Thailand.

First Lady Biden will deliver remarks at two events in Washington: a conference hosted by the group College Promise (1:15 pm) and the groundbreaking of the Smithsonian’s renovated Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden (2 pm)

Legislative Branch

The Senate will convene (1:45 pm) and vote to advance the Respect for Marriage Act, which would codify the Supreme Court decisions legalizing same-sex and interracial marriage.

The bill, which passed the House with bipartisan support in July, needs 60 votes to move forward, a threshold its sponsors believe it will reach.

The House will convene (10 am) and vote on the Speak Out Act, which would make it legally unenforceable for nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) to prohibit employees from speaking out about workplace sexual assault and harassment. The bill already passed the Senate unanimously in September.

The chamber may also vote on 11 additional pieces of legislation postponed from earlier in the week.

Senate Republicans are scheduled to hold their leadership elections (9:30 am), although they could be postponed.

Congressional committees will hold hearings on: Russia’s waning global influence (10 am), the Cherokee Nation’s push for a non-voting House delegate (10 am), JROTC sexual abuse (10 am), the findings of the James Webb Space Telescope (10:30 am), and Postal Service preparedness for the holidays (2 pm).

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court has nothing scheduled today.

👍 Thanks for reading.

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— Gabe