If the United States’ Republican Party splits, what name should the breakaway part use? The White People’s Insurrectionary Libertarian True-Blood Republican Party (WPILTBRP), or just the Donald Trump Party?
Or maybe the hijacker-in-chief gets to keep the name of the party he stole, in which case the rump has to come up with something completely different. The Conservative Party, maybe?
This question has not become a burning issue yet, because it’s far from clear that the Republican Party really will split. After all, at least 45 out of 50 Republican senators are going to vote against impeaching Trump in the trial that opened on Tuesday in the Senate. That doesn’t sound like they are getting ready to chuck him out of the party.
Here is Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican senator, who took the lead in demanding that the charge against Trump of “‘incitement of insurrection against the republic” be set aside.
“Impeachment is for removal from office and the accused here has already left office,” he said, parroting the party’s excuse for refusing to convict Trump without actually condoning the attempted coup.
But back on January 6, just hours after the mob had left the Capitol building, Paul spoke strongly against the idea that anybody in Congress should try to reverse the election outcome certified by the states, the very thing that Trump had sent the mob to force the Congress to do. The man is clearly conflicted, and so is his party.
But there is a deeper story here. Compare what the Republican Party did in the House of Representatives on February 3 in a secret vote and then what it did on January 4 in an open public vote.
Last Wednesday the Republican members of the House, voting in closed caucus, confirmed Representative Liz Cheney as third most senior Republican in the lower chamber even though she had “betrayed” Trump by voting for his impeachment. The vote wasn’t even close: 145 in favour of keeping her in post, only 61 against.
The following day, in an open vote on whether Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene, a fanatical Trump loyalist, should keep her seat on several congressional committees despite her ugly and certifiably crazy views, the very same Republican members of the House voted to keep her in place by 199 to 11.
Greene believes that the California wildfires were set by Jewish laser beams from space. She thinks 9/11 was an inside job. She believes some US school massacres were “false flag” operations, presumably staged by Democrats. She shares Q-Anon conspiracy theories. It must be embarrassing even to sit near her.
She lost her committee seats anyway, because all the Democrats voted to force her out. But in a secret vote, most of those Republican Congressmen would also have disowned her, probably by the same two-to-one majority they gave in support of Liz Cheney.
The Republican members of Congress may be weak and cowardly, but most are not wicked. In an open vote, they felt they had to back Greene, because otherwise Trump’s loyalists back in their home districts would ensure that they never got elected again. But they would love to dump him if they could do it safely.
It won’t be that easy, because Trump truly is terrifying if you are within reach of his wrath, as all but a few of these men and women are. But those two wildly contradictory votes are telling us that the Republican party probably will split. What remains to be settled is which successor will survive long-term.
When political parties split, it doesn’t usually end well for the faction that appears to have stormed out. The ones who stay behind in the “old” party keep the bank accounts and the donor lists and they also tend to look more mature, which can be a big political advantage in a turbulent time.
So the first priority for the sane wing of the Republicans must be to provoke a split as soon as possible — and make sure that it looks like the Trumpites who are to blame. That shouldn’t be hard to arrange with Trump at the helm. It’s a risk, but genuine conservatives have no future in a party that is under Trump’s thumb anyway.
Wouldn’t that split the vote on the right? Yes, but it’s too late to worry about that. Maybe the Democrats will win again in the mid-term elections in 2022, but if the split happens soon the civil war could be over and the Republican Party rebuilt on a better foundation by 2024. There is a good chance that Trump will be full gaga by then, but still hanging on, which would certainly help the process along.
And what should we call Trump’s new party? I would suggest the Monster Raving Loony Party, but the name is already taken.
Dyer is a London-based independent journalist. His new book is titled Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work).