Republicans Likely To Move Hard Right If They Lose Tonight
With most forecasts assuming that Republicans will at least lose control of the House, the odds are that the GOP will react to that by moving further to the right.
The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman posits what might happen to the GOP if, as expected, they suffer big losses today:
Let’s consider what will happen to the GOP after this election is over. Democrats are definitely going to pick up seats in the House; we just don’t know yet whether the number will be 20, 30, 40 or more. What we do know is that the Republicans who lose will be the more moderate members. While there are a few exceptions here and there, as a general matter, the more conservative a district is, the safer the seat and the more intensely right-wing its member of Congress.
That means that your ordinary Freedom Caucus member is going to get reelected even in a blue wave, while the vulnerable members are the more moderate ones who represent swing districts. This will produce a somewhat ironic result in the next Congress: The bigger the blue wave, the more conservative the Republican caucus will end up being when it’s over, and the less equipped the GOP will be to run a different kind of campaign in 2020.
If all the reporting and polls are wrong, we’ll end up with a Republican Congress that looks like it does now (which, to be clear, is incredibly conservative). On the other hand, if Democrats get just enough seats to take the House, a couple dozen of the more moderate Republicans will be defeated, shifting the center of the caucus that remains to the right. And if there’s a huge blue wave, every Republican with even the slightest impulse toward moderation will be gone.
So imagine that happens, and as we approach 2020, all the GOP voices in the House (and nearly all in the Senate) are concerned about appealing to conservative districts and states where they fear only a primary challenge from the right. Not only that, President Trump is running his own reelection campaign, one that will be built on the same racist and xenophobic appeals that helped him get elected in 2016 and that he’s pressing now.
We know that’s what Trump will do, not only because it’s who he is but also because he clearly believes its the best strategy to win. If Democrats win a huge victory Tuesday, Trump isn’t going to say, “Gee, I guess I was wrong about all that anti-immigrant stuff. I need to reach out to a broader electorate to get reelected.” He’ll tell himself that the 2018 defeat only happened because he was not personally on the ballot, and it would have been much worse had he not executed such a brilliant strategy.
That story line will also be validated by the conservative media. Feeding the racial fears and resentments of older white people is to Fox News and conservative radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh what game highlights are to ESPN. It’s the core of the business model, and has been for a couple of decades now. And the GOP base — aghast at an unprecedented number of victories by Democratic women and people of color — will become even more susceptible to the message of fear.
Waldman ends his column with the sentence “There’s a lot more ugliness to come,” and I think he pretty much hits the nail on the head. He is right, for example, that the Republicans most likely to lose their seats tonight are those who are relatively moderate compared to organizations such as the House Freedom Caucus and other hard-right groups inside the House GOP Caucus. By and large, the members of those groups represent districts that are relatively safe from being turned blue thanks to gerrymandering and other factors. The more moderate members that he speaks of, though, include many of the people who represent the 25-30 Republican districts that Hillary Clinton managed to win in the 2016 election as well as members from states that Clinton won two years ago. This will quite obviously increase the power of the hardliners inside whatever is left is the GOP after tonight.
The most immediate impact of this could be seen in just a matter of days after the election when the new GOP Caucus meets to select new leadership. If Republicans somehow manage to hold on to the House, that would mean selecting a new candidate for Speaker of the House to replace Paul Ryan, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this term. As it stands, Kevin McCarthy, the Majority Leader, is the leading candidate for that position, but things will obviously change if the GOP loses control of the House. In that case, the race will be to determine who will be House Minority Leader and who will fill the remaining leadership posts starting with Minority Whip on down. If they do end up with increased power inside the reduced membership of the GOP Caucus, you can expect the House Freedom Caucus to attempt to increase its power in the caucus, most likely by uniting behind Jim Jordan, who has represented Ohio’s 4th Congressional District since being elected in 2006. If that happens you can guarantee that the House GOP will move further to the right.
Things are also likely to move right in the Senate. While there’s likely not going to be a serious challenge to Mitch McConnell regardless of whether or not the GOP holds on to the Senate, and especially not if the GOP holds on to the Senate or gains seats, that doesn’t mean things aren’t going to change. The departure of Senators such as Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, and, of course, John McCain means that the number of “moderate” Republican Senators can effectively be counted on one hand. The one wild card that will be interesting to watch will be Mitt Romney, who will win easily tonight. Romney has been critical of the Trump Administration in the past, of course, and although he has tempered that while running for Senate there are still many who expect him to be the focus of attention to see if he begins to forge a different path for his fellow Republicans in the wake of what could be a disastrous night for the GOP.
Finally, of course, there’s President Trump himself. As I’ve already noted today, Trump has slowly but surely sending signals that he does not intend to let any Republican losses be blamed on him, so it’s likely that we’ll see him dig in even further on the rhetoric we saw during the 2016 campaign and during this campaign. If anything, we’ll like see him use a Democratic-controlled House, or Congress as a whole should Democrats manage to pull off the unlikely and win the Senate, as a whipping boy as he begins to shift toward the 2020 campaign. I suppose it’s possible that he may try to work with Democrats on something like infrastructure, but as a whole, I suspect that the relationship between President Trump and a Democratic Congress will be frosty, to say the least.