Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump are publicly exchanging barbs about what is reasonable to expect the Congress to accomplish, and longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie says the the frustration is ure to boil over into the 2018 primary season.
The back-and-forth started on Monday, when Sen. McConnell told a Rotary Club audience that the GOP Congress is getting hammered by its base for accomplishing little because Trump has set aggressive expectations.
“Part of the reason I think that the storyline is that we haven’t done much is because, in part, the president and others have set these early timelines about things need to be done by a certain point,” said McConnell.
“Our new president, of course, has not been in this line of work before, and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the Democratic process,” he added.
Wednesday afternoon, Trump pushed back via Twitter.
“Senator Mitch McConnell said I had “excessive expectations,” but I don’t think so. After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?,” tweeted Trump.
Some in the Washington media circle characterize the dispute as signs of a Republican civil war or at least dysfunction. Viguerie slightly disagrees.
“There’s probably not a lot of love lost between President Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell. But the reality is they have to get along,” said Viguerie.
But Viguerie is quick to point out that the sharp divisions that emerged within the GOP in 2016 are still there. He says GOP base voters will hold Republicans responsible for not repealing Obamacare after passing bills to do so in the Obama years, and he says Americans won’t care much about the specifics of why it didn’t happen.
He further asserts that even after seven years of vowing repeal, the GOP was still caught flat-footed in 2017 when the opportunity to do it came about.
“I suspect the number one reason is they didn’t think they’d be in the White House. I think most of the Republicans from Washington felt that Hillary would win the election and, truth be told, a high percentage of them probably preferred Hillary Clinton to President Trump,” said Viguerie.
As a result, he suggests many Republicans are actively guarding the status quo.
“Quite frankly, they’re terrified that he may really follow through on his promise to drain the swamp and pour salt over it so that nothing will ever grow there again,” said Viguerie.
“President Trump and candidate Trump campaigned strongly against the Washington establishment. He called for draining of the swamp. If anybody could be considered the mayor of the swamp, it would be Sen. Mitch McConnell,” said Viguerie.
And Viguerie says the fissures exposed during the 2016 GOP primary season will emerge again soon.
“This is a battle that is going to be taken into the 2018 primaries, where lots of Republicans are going to run against Sen. McConnell and the Washington establishment. This is probably just the first few, early shots of a big battle between the establishment and the president,” said Viguerie.
He says that friction could imperil some important pieces of legislation throughout the rest of this Congress but that it would be wrong to declare this a do-nothing Congress. Viguerie says judicial confirmations alone, from the Supreme Court to the appellate and district benches, will make a huge impact on America’s future.
And he says Republicans and conservatives can breathe easier over one other key factor.
“There will be many bad things that won’t happen because Hillary is not president,” said Viguerie.
A funny thing just happened on the way to this 2018 showdown, however. While pro-Trump Republicans Roy Moore and Mo Brooks are challenging appointed GOP Sen. Luther Strange in this month’s Alabama primary in the race to fill the term of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Strange just won Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement.
“Senator Luther Strange has done a great job representing the people of the Great State of Alabama. He has my complete and total endorsement!” tweeted Trump on Tuesday.
Viguerie says grassroots conservatives should not read too much into that.
“He does need to have Mitch McConnell’s support and that of the Senate Republican leaders. To go against an incumbent senator, even though he was appointed, would probably be a bridge too far,” said Viguerie.
But he says those special circumstances should not dampen expectations for a fierce intraparty fight in 2018. Republican are defending just eight of the 33 races on the ballot, but Viguerie says there will be spirited fights to determine the nominations in many of those states.
“This unrest at the grassroots that Trump so successfully connected with and tied into in this last presidential election is just building steam. We have a disruption that’s going on in American politics and I think we haven’t seen anything yet,” said Viguerie.
And Viguerie says that means tensions will only rise among the GOP factions over the next year.
“Not at all. I think whatever unrest, distrust, disconnection between the grassroots Republican voters and their leaders is going to do nothing but grow. The failure of the Republicans to repeal Obamacare just adds gasoline to that fire,” said Viguerie.