The Republican Party had an interesting day on Tuesday and it may well be several weeks or months before all these developments are sorted out. What is clear is that Trump’s candidate was defeated; his former chief political strategist Steve Bannon’s candidate won; Senator Bob Corker announced that he is leaving the Senate—but did not say he moving into political retirement; Donald Trump may well be spawning a new Third Party; and the 2018 congressional elections could produce a dramatic shift in power even for an off-year election. All of these events do not even address the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled the Republican’s last best hope to repeal Obamacare—the Cassidy-Graham bill—because he did not have the votes.
Republicans have had a bad year so far and it is by no means clear that it will be getting any better. Luther Strange’s loss to Judge Roy Moore in the special Alabama Republican Senatorial primary suggested how split is the Republican Party. Strange–Trump and McConnell’s candidate–was defeated by Moore 54% to 45%. While Moore must still face the Democrat Doug Jones in the December 12th general election, at this time Moore is the likely projected winner.
Trump already has deleted all his tweets on behalf of Strange considers whether or how to relate to an electorate which—based on the results in the Alabama primary—is willing to desert even their own President. Whether Trump will be able to lead his Party in the mid-year election without opting for an extreme conservative position as espoused by Bannon and Breitbart is becoming an open question. In fact, Bannon is now in the driver’s seat as he endeavors to push the Republican Party to adopt his Alt-Right message; for both 2018 as well as 2020.
It is in this light that one needs to consider the fact that Corker’s decision may well be the first sign that there will be more conventional, even new voices, emerging in the Republican Party ranks who are considering to challenge a sitting president from within their own party in 2020. If indeed Corker makes such a move—and he had already separated himself from Trump during the past few weeks—there will be many more Republicans who may seek to launch presidential bids for 2020. If this were to occur and the Bannon-Breitbart Alt-Righters were to take over the leadership then there will likely be two or even three candidates to emerge from the current Republican Party. While this entire discussion remains in the realm of speculation and ideological debating, it is clear that no one is focusing on the task of governing.
The President and Speaker Ryan can suggest that they are ready to move on tax reform, but with less than 40 legislative days left in 2017, Congress will be hard pressed to approach action on what all acknowledge is a bill which is yet to be truly vetted by either party. When the lobbyists on K Street start crawling all over the Hill, the likelihood of passage of tax reform by year’s end is probably nil.
The current Republican Party lost on healthcare; is deliberating how to finance infrastructure assistance; and has no chance of passing a major tax reform package if the Congress does not return to regular orders immediately. Governing in Washington has clearly come to a total standstill.