Who really speaks for the Republican Party these days? That's the question Donald Trump raised after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell unequivocally called the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol a "violent insurrection" expressly intended to "prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election."
McConnell made the comments during his weekly press conference Tuesday in response to a Republican National Committee resolution framing the Jan. 6 insurrection as "legitimate political discourse." Some 170 RNC members approved the censure resolution last Friday by voice vote in an effort to punish GOP Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois for serving on the committee investigating Jan. 6.
But the distance between the RNC statement eagerly supported by Trump and how McConnell described the Jan. 6 attack has surfaced a serious question about exactly who speaks for the Republican Party.
“Mitch McConnell does not speak for the Republican Party, and does not represent the views of the vast majority of its voters. He did nothing to fight for his constituents and stop the most fraudulent election in American history,” Trump said in a statement Wednesday, re-upping his lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
“If Mitch would have fought for the election, like the Democrats would have if in the same position, we would not be discussing any of the above today," Trump continued.
If the Senate GOP caucus is the guide, then McConnell speaks for the party, because no other sitting GOP senator is presently poised to challenge his leadership post. Several Senators, such as Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, have challenged McConnell's characterization of Jan. 6 as a "violent insurrection." But the bulk of the caucus has stayed by his side.
However, if polling is the guide, Trump crushes McConnell as the party's spokesperson and de facto leader.
In Civiqs tracking, for instance, Trump still enjoys a solid 83% favorability rating among Republican voters. Trump's favorables among Republicans have slipped over the past year, but they're still relatively high.
McConnell, on the other hand, is liked by just 25% of GOP voters.
That said, a recent NBC News poll found that the number of conservatives who identify as "supporters of Trump" versus "supporters of the Republican Party" had slipped to just 36%, with 56% favoring being supporters of the GOP. A year ago, the two were tied at 46% each, and Trump won majority of conservatives on that question throughout 2020. Last month's Daily Kos/Civiqs poll also found a double-digit decline over the past year in Republicans who identified more as Trump supporters than as GOP supporters, so Trump is definitely losing ground.
But all polling aside, the Republican Party is undergoing a long-overdue reckoning between its passionate, violent, and delusional grassroots base, represented by Trump and the RNC, and the establishment wing of the party represented by McConnell and most Senate Republicans. House Republicans have put their fate entirely in Trump’s hands.
The rift does not bode well for the GOP heading into a midterm cycle where Republicans hope to both mobilize Trump loyalists and win back the suburbs. Trumpers require the party to back the Jan. 6 as legitimate and justified, which is how they view the deadly insurrection. At the very least, suburban voters will likely need a more nuanced approach to the violence that overwhelmed the U.S. Capitol that day.
“Outside of the D.C. bubble, our grassroots are very supportive of the decision to hold Cheney and Kinzinger accountable,” RNC spokeswoman Danielle Alvarez said in a statement to The Washington Post.
But Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota disagreed. “What I think is, the RNC got caught up in its own bubble,” Cramer said, adding that the resolution “demonstrated a complete lack of understanding or awareness of the people they’re supposed to be representing. They’re the ones in a bubble.”
Wait, who exactly is the Republican Party representing these days?
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