Trump Backs the GOP Establishment

Former President Donald Trump is riding into his 2024 election campaign by branding himself as an outsider once more. He is the only anti-establishment figure shuffling onto the hustings, so we hear. But the facts betray this populist fantasy. 

While Trump has publicly broken with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell after endorsing him two years ago, he is nevertheless behind an effort to save the political skins of Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and House Leader Kevin McCarthy. Several reports, Trump’s own comments, and the actions of his close advisors show that the former president is fighting to keep two of the three top GOP leaders in power, which conspicuously conflicts to his anti-establishment shtick. 

Trump’s lobbying for McCarthy has been anything but subtle. In an exclusive interview on Dec. 16 with Breitbart News, Trump said McCarthy’s opponents are playing a “very dangerous game” by trying to replace him. He warned they could produce a worse alternative, pointing to how ousting John Boehner as House Speaker in 2015 ushered in the rise of Paul Ryan. “Look, we had Boehner and he was a strange person but we ended up with Paul Ryan who was ten times worse,” Trump said. “Paul Ryan was an incompetent speaker. I think he goes down as the worst speaker in history.”

But that example is a self-indictment: Trump outsourced much of his agenda to Ryan while the Republicans presided over a ruling trifecta, as Republicans then controlled the executive branch and both houses of Congress. The result is that Trump voters did not receive a finished border wall between the U.S. and Mexico or an end to the offshoring of American jobs—but they did get the tax cuts Ryan had dreamt about for decades.

Trump’s support for McCarthy, who he referred to as “My Kevin” during his presidency, seemed to confound Breitbart readers. One of the top comments reacting to the interview was “Eunuch McCarthy, just another D.C. empty suit. Need I say more?”

At this point, Trump’s blessing is all McCarthy has going for him.

Daniel Horowitz, a senior editor at The Blaze, has painstakingly documented congressional budget battles over the past 12 years. He notes that McCarthy held crucial leadership roles in the House when Republicans held the presidency and both chambers of Congress, and yet achieved very little.

“Every single major budget bill that passed under McCarthy’s leadership as floor leader of the last GOP House, which was when the GOP controlled the trifecta and commanded full stewardship over the policies, was passed with more Democrat support than Republican support,” Horowitz wrote. “It was simply unprecedented in modern history.”

That would be like Democrats passing budget bills nearly unanimously pleasing to Republicans but hated by their core base. But that doesn’t happen, according to Horowitz, because, luckily for them, there’s no McCarthy in the Democratic Party.

“McCarthy not only failed on every single budget bill as floor leader during the era of trifecta control,” Horowitz wrote, “but he literally passed bills that were so palatable to the Left that nearly every radical Democrat support them, while any semi-conservative Republican opposed them.”

An unproductive leader could almost be forgiven. Instead, McCarthy has proven counterproductive to the America First agenda.

An analysis by the American Accountability Foundation (AAF) found that political action committees aligned with McCarthy “meddled” in 16 different Republican primary races where his preferred candidate lost the primary. The AAF concluded that these failed Republican primary interventions cost GOP supporters $19,382,930. In the lead-up to the midterm elections, the political machine around McCarthy spent millions undermining Republican candidates—even some endorsed by Trump—who his allies worried could “cause McCarthy trouble if he becomes House speaker,” The Washington Post reported.

An especially egregious case of McCarthy’s sabotage is the campaign of U.S. Army veteran Joe Kent. Kent refused to mindlessly subscribe to McCarthy’s leadership, which was enough to invite nasty slander. In the weeks before the primaries, groups connected to major McCarthy donors “began attacking Kent as a closeted leftist, with television ads misleadingly suggesting he wanted to ‘defund the police’ or showing old photos of the former Army Special Forces officer sporting long hair alongside false claims that he supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.),” The Post reported. With several combat tours around the world, Kent offered a rare anti-war voice in the GOP. He lost his wife Shannon, who also served, in 2019 to a Syrian suicide bomb attack. Like her husband, she had been deployed to wars McCarthy has long supported but never fought.

RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, like McCarthy, is not harmlessly incompetent but actively undermines the right with her leadership. She also enjoys behind-the-scenes support from Trump’s camp. 

On Dec. 16, the Associated Press reported that as an “increasingly nasty leadership fight” over the RNC unfolds, McDaniel is “facing a rising wave of discontent from Trump’s ‘MAGA’ movement, even as the former president stays silent—at least, for now.” But actions speak louder than words, and Susie Wiles, one of Trump’s closest advisors, is aiding McDaniel in her bid to overcome challengers like Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney who has emerged as the MAGA alternative.

Before joining Trump’s camp full-time, Wiles was a managing partner in the Jacksonville office of Ballard Partners, a powerful lobbying firm that is entwined with the GOP establishment and foreign governments. Now, Wiles is a key player in Trump’s inner circle, charged with overseeing important travel arrangements, fundraising efforts, and creating a system for issuing endorsements for the former president.

The Associated Press reported that Wiles has “notified members in private conversations that Trump remains supportive of McDaniel’s reelection.” She publicly came to McDaniel’s side when news broke of how the RNC mismanaged money under her tenure, including millions of dollars spent on limousines, private jets, donor mementos, and floral arrangements. Wiles actually defended McDaniel by arguing that extravagant “RNC spending was sometimes to cover purchases that came at the discretion of the Trump White House,” which included paying for things like Trump books. Glenn McCall, chair of the RNC’s Budget Committee, joined Wiles by claiming it was “extremely sexist” to criticize McDaniel for using RNC funds for hair, makeup, and other beauty services.

So, what has all that money for McDaniel’s beautification bought the Republican base since her election in 2017? The GOP saw a Democratic landslide in 2018, a presidential defeat in 2020, a Democratic Senate takeover in 2020, and dramatically underperformed in this year’s midterm elections when it should have had a slam dunk. But that’s not all. According to Amanda Milius, who worked in the Trump administration at both the White House and U.S. State Department as deputy assistant secretary for content, McDaniel colluded with McConnell against “MAGA candidates.” Milius cited a “tip from an RNC insider,” claiming the duo covertly “funded anti-MAGA candidates & only helped swamp, establishment, & cartel hacks.”

Most recently, McDaniel added a loss in the Georgia Senate runoff to her record. Her only “win” was launching the first-ever RNC Pride Coalition, which she announced at Mar-a-Lago in 2021. It triggered a grassroots backlash, resulting in McDaniel  apologizing to GOP organizers who thought it was wildly out of touch with Trump’s base. McDaniel claimed it was just a misunderstanding due to planning and execution—which sums up her expensive tenure as RNC chair.  

If McDaniel survives a challenge, it will be because of Trump. In the weeks after the midterms, even as she became the target of withering grassroots criticism, McDaniel was able to gather more than enough votes from RNC members to win reelection. The reason for that, as Politico put it, is simple: “McDaniel is a Trump loyalist, and this is still the former president’s party. Trump stacked the RNC with members friendly to him while he was president and they’re not about to ditch his preferred choice for the job.” 

The remaining arguments for retaining McCarthy and McDaniel collapse under scrutiny. Their ability to raise money is moot because they squander it and even use it to undermine candidates more closely aligned with the America First mandate. The worry from the self-styled antiestablishmentarians, that replacing McCarthy and McDaniel is reckless, is ironic—they are ultimately defending the establishment. The point of Trumpism was to frighten the establishment; now, it is about frightening Trump supporters into not rocking its pillars too hard.

If McCarthy and McDaniel were popular, Trump’s support for them might make a little more sense. However, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz summarized the general sentiment toward the duo (and McConnell) post-midterms in a tweet: “McCarthy. McConnell. McDaniel. McFailure.” Trump supporters thus find themselves between a rock and an awkward place: fending off accusations that Trump is responsible for the GOP’s electoral woes by insisting that blame instead lies with unpopular party leadership—leadership that Trump himself has cultivated based largely on loyalty to himself and is protecting directly and indirectly for that reason.

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