Trump and state party chairs are actively dealing a death blow to GOP elected officials
The pitchforks are out in the Republican Party and they’re not coming for Democrats, they’re coming for the GOP elite—courtesy of Donald Trump. In fact, the mesmerizing GOP meltdown in Georgia isn’t an isolated event; it just happens to be the most high-profile example of the way Trump’s fiery conspiracy-laden populism has turned the GOP base against party elites across the country.
From the Sunbelt to the Midwest to the Northeast, state GOP chairs are siding with Trump’s intraparty war on any state Republican officials who have backed the integrity of the votes in their states to greater or lesser extents.
Former deputy chair of the Minnesota Republican Party Michael Brodkorb called it “Hatfield and McCoy stuff,” except that it’s more Hatfield on Hatfield and McCoy on McCoy. “To see activists across the country really just with pitchforks and torches at the capitols,” he told Politico, “it’s just bonkers.”
In Arizona, GOP party chair Kelli Ward has been warring with Republican Gov. Doug Ducey on Twitter, telling him to “shut the hell up” after the state’s election was certified, cementing Joe Biden’s victory by nearly 10,500 votes.
In Michigan, state Republican Party chair Laura Cox has sided with Trump’s efforts to convince GOP lawmakers to overturn the popular vote—which Biden won by more than 154,000 votes—although they have consistently maintained they don’t have the power to do so.
And even in states like New Hampshire and Massachusetts enormously popular GOP governors like Chris Sununu and Charlie Baker have run up against subversive Republican forces trying to undermine them in the state. Politico writes that some Republicans in New Hampshire have been weighing an attempt to impeach Sununu for ordering a mask mandate in the state to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
But Arizona really takes the cake, with the state party now promoting actual violence in support of Trump’s completely bogus fraud claims. After one #StopTheSteal Twitter user tweeted, “I am willing to give my life for this fight,” the state party account retweeted it with the prompt, “He is. Are you?” The Arizona Republican account also tweeted out and then deleted a clip from a Rambo movie with the quote, “Live for nothing, or die for something.” They seem nice.
The heated tenor and incendiary language in Arizona has some of the state’s more traditional Republican supporters considering extreme measures to try to undermine Trump and his cultists’ hold on the state party. Daniel Barker, a former Arizona Court of Appeals judge who started a PAC for Republicans supporting Biden, is now considering an effort to back conservative-leaning independents for state leadership posts if Trumpian candidates continue to dominate the party structure.
But no matter what, Trump’s populist grip on the party is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. At the federal level, the House Republicans once viewed as the right-wing fringe of the party have now overrun the GOP caucus. They are currently pushing Trump to refuse to concede even after the Electoral College is expected to confirm Biden’s win next week. They want a House floor fight over the matter, giving Trump and his allies one more opportunity to fan the conspiracy flames of a supposedly stolen election that, in actuality, very clearly went for Biden.
And at the state level, party chairs are inspired by the reality that Trump drew out lots of voters who have otherwise been disinclined to vote in past elections. The GOP chair of Iowa, Jeff Kaufmann, was headed for a post-election retirement, for instance. But after the party’s down-ballot wins and relatively high turnout, Kaufmann intends to stick around in order to capitalize on what he views as Trump’s populist, blue-collar appeal.
“As the party chair, we have to ensure that Donald Trump’s attitude toward establishment-era politics” continues, Kaufmann told Politico, framing part of that appeal as giving “the middle finger to the establishment.”
That kind of pressure bubbling up from the bottom of the party will continue to push the party establishment further right, lest they become targets of Trump’s pitchfork-wielding fanatics.