The GOP establishment is rallying its waning forces and influence behind failed 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who just picked up the nomination for U.S. Senate in Utah Tuesday, while “The Resistance” from the grassroots left picked up a major win against the establishment of the Democratic Party in New York.
This all comes as President Donald Trump keeps winning policy-wise and politically inside his own party, knocking off primary challengers to his endorsed incumbents in South Carolina’s gubernatorial contest and in a New York congressional race.
Most importantly, in both parties, there appears to be a scrambling by leaders desperate to figure out how to stop Trump. The crumbling GOP establishment turns its gaze to an old friend in Romney, perhaps its wing of the party’s last best hope, to slow Trump’s roll from the GOP perspective.
Inside the Democratic Party, meanwhile, a debate rages on how best to confront the unconventional president–with one side wanting all out war with Trump and another urging caution so as not to alienate swing voters and become more of a regional party.
Romney’s win comes against the backdrop of a year filled with anti-establishment primary victories inside the Republican Party, stretching from North Carolina through the rust belt of Pennsylvania, Indiana, and West Virginia–on out to Montana and back down south to Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina. The GOP’s establishment wing has lost significant influence in recent months as Trump has put his stamp on the party’s internal vision.
Incumbent Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN), frequent critics of the president, are not running for re-election. In their wake, more pro-Trump candidates are emerging. In Tennessee, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) is the presumptive nominee for U.S. Senate. In Arizona, there is a three-way battle between Dr. Kelli Ward, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ)–all of whom present themselves as pro-Trump–for the party’s nomination for the Senate seat Flake is vacating.
Trump critic Rep, Mark Sanford (R-SC) lost his primary to the very pro-Trump state Rep. Katie Arrington in South Carolina. Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) lost his primary to the more pro-Trump Dr. Mark Harris in North Carolina. In Virginia, early Trump state co-chairman nationalist Corey Stewart won the party’s nomination for U.S. Senate. Matt Rosendale, the pro-Trump state auditor, defeated establishment-backed Russell Fagg for the U.S. Senate nomination in Montana. In West Virginia, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey beat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s handpicked candidate Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) in the Senate primary. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), one of the handful of U.S. congressmen who endorsed Trump very early in the primaries, is the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in North Dakota. In Indiana, Mike Braun beat two sitting congressmen for the nomination of his party for U.S. Senate by famously donning a red “Make America Great Again” hat in ads.
Just Tuesday evening, Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina–the first statewide elected official anywhere in America to endorse and campaign with Trump in 2016 back when he was Lieutenant Governor–held off his primary in the runoff thanks in large part to a big push from President Trump himself. And in New York, Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) fended off a primary from former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) on Staten Island with an endorsement from the president.
Those are just the beginnings of the electoral woes for the Washington establishment wing of the GOP–which has seen countless retirements, and not just Flake and Corker. House Speaker Paul Ryan is leaving Congress, not to return. The lame duck Speaker and failed 2012 Romney running mate joins more than three dozen of his House GOP establishment colleagues in not coming back next year. More primaries linger around the corner, and more establishment members and candidates could be in trouble.
This all comes as an emboldened President Trump is fresh off several major policy victories. Earlier on Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that upheld Trump’s controversial ban on travel to the United States from seven Middle Eastern countries, an executive action the president took early in his presidency but was blocked by lower courts until now.
This week, House Republican leaders are expected to put on the floor of the House a vote on Ryan’s amnesty plan–which would be the biggest amnesty in U.S. history and which, despite half-hearted backing from Trump, does not match the president’s vision of immigration policy. The bill is expected to fail miserably on the floor, and when it does it will be another rejection by the Republican Party of the old wing that Ryan–and his old running mate Romney–represent.
Trump just returned from Singapore, too, where he held successful talks with North Korean premiere Kim Jong-un–something no president in the past half-century has been able to accomplish. While still not finished, the Kim regime apparently agreed to denuclearize and has been sending back remains of fallen U.S. soldiers from the Korean War and already released U.S. prisoners held in North Korean captivity. The president is also renegotiating trade deals and reframing the United States’ role in protecting U.S. jobs and industry from being stolen by foreign countries, all while overseeing a booming economy that is reviving America’s heartland and rust belt.
Even so, despite all his successes, the globalist establishment wing of the GOP has yet to give up control of all the levers of power to Trump and his band of nationalist populist rebels. That’s where Romney comes in. The smooth-talking failed one-time presidential candidate is running for the Senate seat vacated by retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and represents the last dying breaths of the old ways of the Grand Old Party. Romney talks the part of a nationalist on matters like China, and has even thrown further right than Trump on some immigration fights, but when it matters, most those platitudes fall by the wayside and the globalist in Romney resurfaces.
“Let me put it plainly, if we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished,” Romney said late in the primary in 2016, as Trump soared on his way to the nomination and eventually the presidency.
“If Donald Trump’s plans were ever implemented, the country would sink into a prolonged recession,” Romney said in an infamous speech in–of all places–Utah, as part of the last-ditch globalist plot to stop Trump from ascending to the Oval Office.
“Donald Trump tells us that he is very, very smart. I’m afraid that when it comes to foreign policy he is very, very not smart,” Romney added later in the speech.
How wrong was Romney? In every respect, in every utterance he made in that speech at the University of Utah, Romney was wrong. The economy is booming, and Trump is dominating a remaking of the international order in global politics–all while reshaping domestic and international U.S. policy on a near hourly basis with win after win after win. Romney was just plain wrong–but the more important thing is Romney said all these things and used his image and platform and voice to help the globalist establishment when they absolutely needed him most.
How about when American workers have needed Romney most on trade or auto manufacturing policy or immigration policy or standing up to Chinese influence? He talks a good game, but doesn’t deliver–the perfect weapon for the GOP establishment to rally behind as it heads into hibernation while Trump gains in popularity.
Trump did endorse Romney for Senate after the two reached a detente over frog legs when Trump won the presidency, so Trump can claim victory–as he did–for now, with Romney’s win:
Big and conclusive win by Mitt Romney. Congratulations! I look forward to working together – there is so much good to do. A great and loving family will be coming to D.C.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 27, 2018
But a storm is brewing, as Romney has vowed to be a voice against Trump inside the GOP whenever he disagrees with the president.
“I have and will continue to speak out when the president says or does something which is divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions,” Romney wrote in an op-ed days ago in the Salt Lake Tribune. “I do not make this a daily commentary; I express contrary views only when I believe it is a matter of substantial significance.”
More substantively, Romney said he disagrees with Trump’s tariffs and would not have sided with the president’s decision to withdraw from the wildly unpopular Barack Obama-era Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)–among other matters cutting at the core of the president’s agenda. Romney wrote that he has “openly expressed my disagreement with certain of the administration decisions such as the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); I want more markets open for Utah and American goods. I also oppose broad-based tariffs, such as those proposed on steel and aluminum, particularly when they are imposed on our allies.”
Stopping the president’s economic nationalist populist surge seems almost futile at this point, as others such as now-former White House advisers Gary Cohn and H.R. McMaster–as well as other GOP lawmakers like Ryan, Corker, Flake, and many others have tried and failed–but Trump powered through all of that.
Which brings us to the other big story in addition to Romney’s win in Utah’s senate primary is on Tuesday night: In New York, where the grassroots left blew a member of House Democratic leadership out of Congress in a primary. This represents the other side of the opposition to Trump, the Democrats, who are engaged in a near civil war over how to tactically stop Trump’s continued implementation of populist nationalist policies.
Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), a 10-term incumbent who was viewed as a potential successor to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and served as the number four in her leadership team, lost his primary to a young 28-year-old Hispanic woman backed by the anti-establishment leftist forces inside the Democratic party. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist whose campaign platform includes the radical position of abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) federal immigration law enforcement agency, surged past the establishment-backed Crowley in a stunning upset few saw coming.
Crowley complained about Ocasio-Cortez using her race in the campaign, and said that being “born white” hurt him. Here is a key relevant excerpt from The Intercept’s Ryan Grim in a piece in early June about the race:
Crowley, though, when he talked about the campaign, shared his frustration over what he perceives to be an inordinate focus on ethnicity.
His opponent, he said, was trying to make the campaign “about race” — a strategy he called “unnecessarily divisive” at a time when the party needed to be “fighting Republicans, not other Democrats,” according to two people at the gathering.
“I can’t help that I was born white,” Crowley said.
Crowley’s historic loss comes amid a larger battle inside the Democratic Party about how best to challenge an increasingly popular and successful Trump. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), an anti-establishment Democrat who has aligned with his party’s rising populist forces, actually endorsed Ocasio-Cortez against Crowley in the primary–a stunning rebuke by a member, albeit a freshman, of his party’s leadership. In fact, late Tuesday, Khanna’s name–along with several others who have been leading an anti-war charge inside the Democratic Party for a restriction of U.S. military action in Yemen and elsewhere –was floated for a potential Democratic Party leadership role.
Have to figure any potential challenger to Pelosi/Hoyer would be young, progressive, a woman or minority or both! Who does that look like? Perhaps @RepJayapal (D-Wash.) or @RepRoKhanna (D-Calif.) or @TulsiGabbard (D-Hawaii) https://t.co/iFe9xqHmFW
— Scott Wong (@scottwongDC) June 27, 2018
This could even mean a full-on revolt against Pelosi ahead of–or immediately after–the midterm elections:
House Democrat on stunning Crowley defeat: "This means a wide open field" for leadership races. "It's definitely time for the younger people to rise up"
— Scott Wong (@scottwongDC) June 27, 2018
Of course, Pelosi has promised–an empty promise–that should Democrats retake the House majority in the upcoming midterm election, they would not move to impeach President Trump. She keeps denying impeachment as a motive of Democrats because survey after survey shows it is unpopular with the general public. But, with this element taking over inside the Democratic Party, and the resistance running out leadership members of their team, she may have no choice but to back impeachment of Trump should she regain the Speaker’s gavel–if she wants to keep it.
The president mocked Crowley’s loss on Wednesday night as somehow being because he was too anti-Trump:
Wow! Big Trump Hater Congressman Joe Crowley, who many expected was going to take Nancy Pelosi’s place, just LOST his primary election. In other words, he’s out! That is a big one that nobody saw happening. Perhaps he should have been nicer, and more respectful, to his President!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 27, 2018
But joking aside, the real story here is that the Democrat grassroots wants a war on Trump–and desire the embrace by the party’s leadership of full-blown extremist identity politics. Cross that base, or resist the resistance, and face the consequences.
All of this, perhaps most interestingly, sets up a pure base-driven political dynamic heading into November. Two movements, Trump’s populist movement and the left’s “resistance” movement, face off in November. Which one wins determines the future of the country.