Two months before she lost the most consequential election in a lifetime, Hillary Clinton released this campaign ad. The video includes various clips and soundbites from prominent Republicans criticizing then-nominee Donald Trump.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called him a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called him a “fraud.” Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse said he wasn’t a “serious adult.”
The ad was quickly overshadowed by the infamous “deplorables” comment, but it also foreshadowed what would eventually be Donald Trump’s downfall: his touchy relationship with other Republicans.
Less than a month before he lost the other most consequential election in a lifetime, President Trump picked a fight with Sen. Sasse. Sasse had made several criticisms of the president in a call with constituents, so Trump took to Twitter to retaliate.
An election and several challenges to the election later, Sasse released an announcement saying that he would not participate in the latest “project to overturn the election.”
Before the end of the year, Sen. Josh Hawley announced that he will sign on to the plan to formally challenge the electoral college results on Wednesday. Several other Republican senators followed Hawley’s lead.
Challenging the electoral results in Congress will be the last chance for the Trump campaign to prevent former Vice President Joe Biden from becoming president.
Sasse was also joined by several other Republican senators in resisting the effort, including Mitt Romney.
Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, also released a statement via Twitter condemning Hawley’s attempt. Pennsylvania is one of the swing states that Trump lost and is contesting.
Toomey said, “I voted for President Trump and endorsed him for re-election. But, on Wednesday, I intend to vigorously defend our form of government by opposing this effort to disenfranchise millions of voters in my state and others.”
More surprisingly, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas announced Sunday evening that he would not join Hawley’s efforts. Cotton has been an ally to the president, even urging him to “send in the troops” to suppress protests in June.
This particular divide among Republicans happened so suddenly, but the seeds were sown all the way back in the 2016 primaries. Trump has tried to position himself as an “anti-establishment” candidate and president, with phrases like “drain the swamp” and his various disregard for norms.
The “swamp” he speaks about has always included fellow Republicans. The result is a Republican establishment that only tolerates him. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly called out Hawley for forcing the divisive vote.
Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric was the precursor to his subsequent authoritarian actions as president. In 2016, a predisposition to authoritarianism was a major indicator of whether a voter would support Trump over the other Republican candidates, according to an analysis by political communications expert Matthew MacWilliams.
MacWilliams said, “The Republican Party establishment that so opposes Trump is no longer in control of the GOP presidential primary.”
It seems that now McConnell and the Republican establishment is struggling to regain control of the party after Trump. Senate Republicans are similarly divided on $600 versus $2000 stimulus checks; McConnell versus Trump and Hawley.
Sen. Hawley’s actions have resulted in speculation that he may run for president in 2024 as Trump’s successor. The chances of his nomination, or someone like him, hinge on how this divide within the Republican party is or isn’t healed.