Election day madness and budding GOP civil wars
The GOP breaking with Trump may be wise, but it carries a significant amount of risk. Anyone who breaks from Trump in small, isolated numbers has every chance of being steamrolled in the process.
The predicted red wave we heard so much about leading to Tuesday’s midterm elections has not materialized. Republicans almost certainly won’t gain a majority in the Senate, and depending on the results of the Georgia runoff on December 6th, Democrats may even pick up an additional seat. The House is still leaning towards Republicans but just barely. Even if the GOP does gain control of the House, there’s a brewing civil war over who gets to be the next Speaker. Kevin McCarthy is surely going to be angling for the job he’s long coveted, but there are rumblings that McCarthy will have to give more concessions to members of the Freedom Caucus to gain the necessary votes. There also appears to be the prospect of Steve Scalise making a play for the job, so there’s a lot of uncertainty at the moment and plenty of votes still to be counted. If the Democrats do somehow manage to maintain control of the House, it’s a pretty remarkable midterm election results. I’ll admit that I didn’t see it coming.
In any case, McCarthy vs. Scalise isn’t the only intraparty squabble within the GOP ranks. The battle for control of the party really begins and ends with the potential Trump vs. DeSantis primary battle. We’re seeing major splits in right-wing media over which candidate they prefer with much of the blame for the poor performance in the midterms falling on Trump—a man who is notoriously incapable of accepting criticism. The criticism is more than fair, however. Trump’s persistent focus on 2020 election denial and his decision to personally intervene in so many of the GOP primary races resulted in bad candidates who believed unpopular things. Most Americans want to move on from 2020, but Trump isn’t letting them. It’s hurting the party and Ron DeSantis’s emphatic victory in Florida is showing a different way forward for the GOP.
Let’s catch up on the latest in midterm shenanigans and the resulting aftermath.
It’s informative for me to focus in this piece on what Charlie Kirk’s operation, Turning Point USA (TPUSA), has been up to this week. If you’re not familiar, Kirk is a 29-year-old college dropout whose forays into the GOP influence game were made possible thanks to some wealthy Republican donors who saw his political potential. Kirk has focused a lot of his time and energy on growing a base of youth voters through outreach on college campuses. His organization and financial backing grew significantly while Trump was president, and Kirk was often seen alongside Don Jr. at events or on the campaign trail. After Trump’s 2020 election loss, Kirk has moved closer to the “Bannonsphere” with his media operations. His political show runs weekdays, pushing the usual divisive messaging Trump made famous. His and Steve Bannon’s War Room show have an often-interchangeable cast of co-hosts and guests. Much of their rhetoric is indistinguishable from Alex Jones’s Infowars. It’s no surprise then that Kirk backed Trump’s handpicked candidates leading up to the midterms, and the various TPUSA affiliates were particularly active in Arizona, empowering what became the tip of the spear in terms of MAGA world election denial. The wave of expectation, disappointment and uncertainty about what comes next for this crowd tells us a lot about the right’s hesitation to pick a side in the Trump vs. DeSantis primary battle.
One of TPUSA’s first big moves in the state involved replacing the (more traditional conservative) GOP House speaker in Arizona, Rusty Bowers, with a MAGA friendly alternative. They’ve since focused their support on the GOP candidate for Arizona governor, Kari Lake. As Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Isaac Stanley-Becker at the Washington Post write:
The takedown of one of the most powerful Republicans in the state illustrates the rise of Turning Point USA and its network of affiliates, which have pushed beyond their core mission of energizing college conservatives to turn Arizona into a laboratory for a new brand of Republican organizing. The decade-old nonprofit organization has helped transform the state GOP, seeking to elevate acolytes of former president Donald Trump and purge old-guard centrists who led in the tradition of the late Republican Sen. John McCain.
The group’s success is reflected in the Republican midterm election slate — nearly every statewide candidate and many of those farther down the ballot have embraced Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rigged. The political career of Kari Lake, the state’s GOP gubernatorial nominee, took off at a Turning Point event last year, and she has filled her campaign staff with former Turning Point employees. Lake has promised, if elected, to overhaul how votes are cast and counted in this pivotal swing state.
“They have a bigger impact than any other Republican group I know,” said Jeff DeWit, a former state treasurer in Arizona who served as chief operating officer for both of Trump’s presidential campaigns. “They’re more powerful than the RNC,” he said, referring to the Republican National Committee.
Founder Charlie Kirk, now 29, was the 10th-biggest “superspreader” of misinformation about the 2020 election on Twitter, according to the Election Integrity Partnership, a consortium of researchers. Kirk encouraged his followers to attend the Jan. 6, 2021, rally that preceded the assault on the U.S. Capitol, and a website promoting the rally listed Turning Point Action, the group’s political arm, as a backer.
With more than $65 million in annual revenue, more than 400 employees and a massive network of conservative influencers, Turning Point’s vast network exerts its influence through a dizzying array of mediums, from podcasts to social media to concert-like rallies, funded by GOP megadonors and aimed at younger generations.
Kirk is a prolific fundraiser, using his connections in Trump’s inner circle to fete donors at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida. But it’s Bowyer, 37, who translates that influence and those resources into raw political power in Arizona, a state increasingly setting the tone for the national GOP.
As the Washington Post piece notes, Kirk and those closest to him are looking ahead to 2024 but, these midterms elections “will test whether Turning Point can win races or just disrupt them.” They need to win, so the focus for TPUSA is on that winning. However, it does appear that they’re hedging their bets a bit here. Staying focused on Arizona where election counts are ongoing is a much more straightforward option than deciding whether their future alignment will be alongside Trump or Ron DeSantis.
Early Tuesday morning, on election day, we saw TPUSA’s disinformation factory off to a strong start.
TPUSA’s official team was joined by lots of the pro-Trump election denial usual suspects like Candace Owens, Nick Fuents and Ali Alexander.
Throughout the day, Kirk remained actively engaged on his show, and as the day wore on, we saw his growing concern turn into desperation.
On the show (in the video below) we see the following exchange:
Jack Posobiec: "What Charlie is saying here is that first rush did not come in in the numbers that we needed to have it come in."
Charlie Kirk: “Tyler Bowyers says we’re on track to lose.”
There we see Kirk’s attempt to gin up support and get people out to vote. The results they were already seeing gave them reason to be concerned that Lake was going to lose. Remember the theme of “Saving America” persists with this group, so Kirk’s listeners were meant to hear the concern and go vote before the election was stolen from them!
By late Tuesday night / early Wednesday morning, it had become clear that the long promised “Red Wave” wasn’t happening, and the blame game started in full effect. Anonymous GOP sources let it known that the party has a Trump problem, which of course they do, but they’ve never shown enough spine to do anything about Trump’s hold on the party before. Why should we expect anything different this time?
Then came reports of blame being tossed the way of would-be future Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. The possibility of McCarthy not getting the job started to gain traction with Minority Whip Steve Scalise floated as a potential alternative. McCarthy, they said, might need to make more concessions.
As Punchbowl News wrote of McCarthy’s dilemma:
“I personally don’t take well to leveraging,” McCarthy told us in October. “I just don’t do it.”
Yet McCarthy at this point may have no choice but to at least entertain some concessions. If he has a 224-seat majority – the low end of his team’s current estimates – McCarthy can only lose six votes on the floor and still become speaker. He has two options – call conservatives bluff and attempt to steamroll them, or find some concessions he can support. If the majority ends up closer to 220, it will be a real slog for McCarthy.
The anger directed at Kevin McCarthy was perhaps most especially pronounced from Benny Johnson, the chief creative officer at TPUSA, sitting alongside Charlie Kirk.
As the Daily Beast noted, McCarthy’s ability to pull through—assuming the GOP does end up controlling the House—depends on buy in from the House Freedom Caucus, but he can’t count on Trump to strong-arm people into giving him the job. They write:
McCarthy may resist a number of the proposals and dare the Freedom Caucus to deny him the speakership. But two sources who spoke to The Daily Beast insisted the HFC would follow through on its threats—and that McCarthy’s hopes of appealing to former President Donald Trump to save him would be fruitless.
How is this all going to end? Well, the end is nowhere in sight, but we do know what’s coming next Tuesday.
We also know Trump isn’t going down without a fight! This is how he fights, after all, and he’s “truthing” up a storm on Truth Social as of Thursday morning.
The cult of QAnon is not letting go of Trump anytime soon. Q believers are really mad that some people on the right are trying to replace Trump and bring on DeSantis!
Murdoch media has pivoted to DeSantis as the future of the GOP, but I really would love to know if they think the base are reading op-eds on Fox News? The shift is obvious, but Fox has tried this before. Every time they’ve wavered, they’ve eventually embraced Trump once more.
As Oliver Darcy wrote for CNN on Wednesday regarding the DeSantis pivot:
Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who controls some of the most powerful organs in conservative media, appeared to make clear Wednesday that he would prefer to cast aside former President Donald Trump in favor of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the leader of the Republican party.
The New York Post, a tabloid Murdoch controls, hailed DeSantis’ election night victory on its front page Wednesday morning.
“DeFUTURE,” the headlined on the Post blared, alongside a photo of DeSantis and his family celebrating their major win in the Sunshine State
On Fox News, the dominant television voice Murdoch controls, significant attention was given on Wednesday to DeSantis’ victory.
“I think Governor DeSantis is the single biggest winner of the night,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on “Fox & Friends,” adding that he will “almost certainly become the rallying point for everybody in the Republican Party who wants to move beyond President Trump.”
The home page of Fox News also prominently featured a column by conservative commentator Liz Peek that declared DeSantis “the new leader of the Republican Party.” Fox News dubbed it “A NEW ERA.”
And The Wall Street Journal, the broadsheet owned by Murdoch, the newspaper’s conservative editorial board published a piece proclaiming the “DeSantis Florida tsunami.”
What I would tell Murdoch is the media the base of the party consumes now isn’t on Fox News or the Wall Street Journal. It’s on social media. It’s on YouTube and Rumble. It’s on podcasts, Telegram and other fringe platforms most people have never heard of.
So Murdoch and Fox can blame Trump all they want. Who is pro-Trump media pinning the blame for the disappointing election results on? Gen-Z voters, the mainstream media, Kevin McCarthy, but perhaps more importantly, the “ballot harvesting” excuse has gotten quite a bit of play too.
This is at least in part courtesy of Dinesh D’Souza’s “documentary” 2000 Mules, in which “mules” or “ballot harvesting” occurs by illegally collecting votes and taking them to the polls. D’Souza’s claims have been thoroughly debunked (not that MAGA cares about that).
Breaking with Trump is probably the smart move for the GOP right now, but it carries a significant amount of risk. Anyone who breaks from Trump in small, isolated numbers has every chance of being steamrolled in the process.
TPUSA is obviously closely tied to Trump, but they’re also really friendly with DeSantis. Eventually everyone is going to have to pick a side in the GOP Civil War, which is now happening on multiple fronts. Maybe it’s already getting started.
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