His reascension, as nominee or the eventual winner, threatens to spark the same clashes with the Hill GOP that took a heavy toll on the party.
Congressional Republicans are steeling themselves for a return to daily life with Donald Trump — which means constant, uncomfortable questions about his erratic policy whims and political attacks.
With Trump far ahead of the GOP primary pack and leading President Joe Biden in some polls, Republicans are getting a preview of future shellshock akin to their experiences in 2016 and his presidency. It’s likely to continue for the next 11 months. And perhaps four more years after that.
Trump’s recent call to replace the Affordable Care Act is triggering a particularly unwelcome sense of deja vu within the GOP. Even as many Senate Republicans steered away from Trump over the past couple years, now they’re increasingly resigned to another general election that could inundate them with the former president’s often fact-averse and hyperbolic statements.
But Hill Republicans are girding to treat Trump the third-time nominee the same way they did Trump the neophyte candidate and then president. They’re distancing themselves and downplaying his remarks, which touch on policy stresses like his urge to end Obamacare and political grievances like his vow to come down “hard” on MSNBC for its unfavorable coverage.
“He is almost a stream of consciousness,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), one of only three Senate Republicans who will remain in office after voting to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial — the other four have either already left or plan to next year. It’s “analogous to when every day he would tweet,” Cassidy added, “and 99 percent of the time it never came to anything.”
Even so, Trump’s return threatens to spark the same clashes with the Hill GOP that took a heavy political toll on the party, perhaps to an even stronger degree than his first term. Some potential flashpoints are evident in his agenda: Trump is likely to tap nominees who rankle Senate Republican leaders and pursue a polarizing bid to reshape the civil service into a less independent force.
Other sources of tension will be political. Trump could try to force an ouster of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, if the Kentucky Republican even tries to keep the top job under another Trump presidency. House Republicans could see their own leadership shakeup if Trump is elected, since the former president has the power to purge a leader he dislikes.
“One thing I’m pretty certain of is that the leadership is all up in the air. And I don’t think any of them survive after this term,” said Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio), a Trump ally who recently began airing public criticisms of Speaker Mike Johnson.
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