Former President Trump’s political clout has taken another serious hit, as Republicans opposed to Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s Speakership bid ignore his pleas to back the California Republican.
It’s just the latest sign that Trump’s once-iron grip on his party is weakening, a reality that raises questions about his 2024 presidential bid while giving rivals more confidence they can defeat him in a primary.
Conservative Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) said on the House floor on Wednesday that Trump needed to tell McCarthy to withdraw from the contest, while Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said it was “sad” that the former president supported McCarthy.
On top of that, in an act that could be described as defiance or flattery, Gaetz voted for Trump to be Speaker during the seventh round of voting on Thursday.
“I think this is a sign of his diminished influence,” said Brian Seitchik, an Arizona-based GOP strategist and Trump campaign alum. “There was a time when Trump would say ‘jump’ and everyone would say ‘how high?’”
On Thursday, McCarthy lost his ninth bid for Speaker as the group of 20 rogue Republicans voted for another candidate and one Republican voted “present.”
Trump has taken to his social media platform TruthSocial this week to call on the roughly 20 House Republicans opposed to McCarthy to rally around the GOP leader. He’s also been busy providing some commentary on the closed-door negotiations.
“Very good things are happening behind the scenes for the Republican Party,” Trump wrote on Wednesday. “Intense but Smart negotiations between GREAT and PATRIOTIC people are ongoing. They all love our Country, and want something to go forward, ASAP. This ‘event’ will end up making the Republican Party STRONGER and more UNITED than ever before.”
Republican strategists think the fight in the House could hurt their party along with Trump, giving something to seize upon to Democrats and President Biden.
“How do you beat high gas prices and still a sagging economy? You beat it by pointing to the other side and saying you may not like every outcome, you may not even like every policy, and frankly, you may not even like me, but look at those clowns,” one Republican strategist told The Hill.
The strategist said it’s not the Speaker fight itself that is a disaster for Republicans. It’s what it points to for the future.
Any Speaker elected — McCarthy or someone else — is likely to face challenges uniting the fractious conference.
“It’s not a political patient on a ventilator but it is a symptom that if I were a prescribing political doctor I would be really worried about right now,” the strategist said of the fight on the House floor.
Some downplay the fact that the Republicans opposed to a Speaker McCarthy ignored Trump. They said it isn’t about Trump, but McCarthy,
“I don’t think it has anything to do with Trump. I think it has everything to do with either a personal issue with McCarthy or an ideological issue,” Seitchik said.
Still, conservatives say that Trump’s calls for rogue House Republicans to rally around McCarthy are a sign that the former president is misreading the room.
“Republican [voters] have been so betrayed by our leadership that now they just want a scalp, I think, just to send a message that they’re done. They’re done messing around,” said Terry Schilling, president of the conservative American Principles Project.
“It’s the same spirit and the same reason that Donald Trump was unstoppable in 2016 against a host of some of the best and most qualified Republican candidates for president that we’ve ever had,” he continued.
Trump has had a series of recent stumbles.
Candidates he backed faltered in the midterms, contributing to a disappointing outcome for the GOP that was blamed in part on Trump — even by Republicans.
A dinner he held with two avowed antisemites caused a national stir, as did remarks by Trump about terminating the Constitution to overturn the 2020 election.
The debacle over the Speakership comes as various 2024 polls show support for the former president appearing to wane as potential presidential hopeful and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) sees his stock rise.
A USA-Today-Suffolk University poll released last month found that 31 percent of voters said they wanted the former president to run, while 61 percent said they would prefer another GOP candidate who would continue Trump’s policies. The same poll also found that 56 percent of Republicans wanted DeSantis to run while 33 percent said they wanted Trump to run.
While Trump’s waning influence may give a boost to DeSantis, it also demonstrates how difficult it will be for any candidate to unify the party from the top of the ticket, say some observers.
“Clearly there’s a leadership vacuum inside the Republican Party,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant. “There’s not a single national Republican who’s demonstrated the ability to unite all the Republican factions.”
And don’t expect the other presidential hopefuls to wade into the Speakership drama like Trump has.
“There’s very little upside and a whole lot of downside to weighing in on the Speaker’s race, but Donald Trump could not miss an opportunity to be at the center of the action,” Seitchik said.