by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A looming leadership fight in the House is only partly over whether Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming will remain Republican conference chairwoman. The larger issue is a debate over how the GOP should handle former President Donald Trump going forward.
One faction of congressional Republicans, in line with the party’s rank-and-file voters according to most polls, would like to embrace Trump. That means defending his record, celebrating his term in the White House, and lifting him up as a party icon alongside Ronald Reagan — perhaps even to the point of supporting him for president again in 2024.
This group ranges from populist relative newcomers such as Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida and embattled Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia to such ascendant lawmakers as Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York. …
… Another set of Republicans believes it is important to disassociate the party from Trump and disavow his claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, especially after the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. Cheney is the most prominent proponent of this strategy. …
… A third group would like to move past discussion of Trump where possible and focus on winning majorities in Congress, which, despite Jan. 6, Republicans remain well positioned to do. The Senate is split 50-50, and the House — where the party outside the White House frequently makes big gains in the midterm elections, especially in the first such contests under the last two Democratic presidents — is in Democratic hands by just five votes.
These Republicans are split on how much influence Trump should have going forward. Some, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, would prefer to remain as silent about the former president as possible. Others, like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, are happy to enlist Trump’s help in winning seats next year. But they are united in wanting the conversation trained on 2022 rather than the past.