Trump's Washington means civil war — for both parties

Washington Post

On Saturday, an aide to President Donald Trump took to Twitter to denounce a renegade House Republican and encouraged other Republicans to defeat the wayward lawmaker in a GOP primary next year.

On Monday, liberal advocacy groups plan to deliver a petition to the political arm of Senate Democrats denouncing a pair of Democratic incumbents who intend to break ranks next week to support Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. The groups plan to demand that Democrats refrain from spending any funds to re-elect Sens. Joe Manchin (W. Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), more conservative Democrats whose presence in their seats are the best defense against ceding them to Republicans.

A little over two months into Donald Trump's presidency, Washington is experiencing fierce civil wars on either end of the ideological spectrum - an extraordinary development that has created a political climate unlike any in recent memory.

Both Republicans and Democrats, reeling from different forms of defeat, have turned on their own in an attempt to punish those members of their party who don't conform to the prevailing orthodoxy on the biggest issues of the day. Outside political groups and President Trump himself have issued threats to these transgressors -- and, in at least one case, a conservative group has actually withdrawn advertising and on-the-ground resources aiding a GOP lawmaker.

The casualty of the nonstop infighting is a lack of focus on the political middle ground where elections are won and where legislation must be forged in order to win enough votes to be enacted.

Normally, the losing party spends many months after a presidential election in a soul-searching mission aimed at figuring out what went wrong, usually prompting a debate about whether to try and appeal more to centrists or seek further ideological purity aimed at turning out more base voters in the next election.

Yet the 2016 election and its aftermath have increased tensions across the political spectrum, heightening the establishment versus anti-establishment feud in Republican circles and sparking a new wave of fury within Democratic ranks.

The House's implosion on the health-care debate in late March and the Senate's debate over Gorsuch's nomination crystallize those internal wars.

The president, according to Dan Scavino Jr.'s tweet, "is bringing auto jobs & plants back to Michigan. @justinamash is a liability."

Scavino is the director of White House social media and a senior adviser to Trump, a role that would usually mean keeping a low profile and not issuing threats against a fellow Republican like Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.). Amash was part of the conservative House Freedom Caucus that helped take down the legislation that would have repealed some of the 2010 Affordable Care Act and replaced it with a complex system of tax credits, which was supported by Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).

Scavino issued a final edict to his 385,000 followers on Twitter on Saturday, about how to handle Amash: "Defeat him in primary."

This followed several days of angry tweets from Trump himself, warning Freedom Caucus members to "get on the team" or else he would "fight" them, a seeming reference to primary challenges next year. The president singled out Amash and Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, by name for their recalcitrant ways.

Trump is getting his first experience with GOP infighting that has vexed Ryan and his predecessor, former speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, since Republicans won the House majority in the 2010 midterms.

But it's not just far-right Republicans under political fire. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC run by allies of Ryan, pulled its ad campaign in support of Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, when he announced that the health legislation tilted too far to the right and would leave too many constituents without insurance in his middle-of-the-road district.

The PAC had already placed a staffer on the ground in Des Moines, Iowa, to begin collecting data to help Young in his re-election race. The staffer was called home.

The feuding has left Trump's entire agenda up in the air, as the issues ahead, particularly an overhaul of the entire tax code, are just as complex as overhauling the health-care industry. In normal times, one option would be to turn to Democrats for support, but, as Gorsuch's confirmation battle demonstrates, these are not normal times and almost no Democrat is willing to work with the president out of fear that liberal anti-Trump activists will take out their anger on them.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has declared that he will round up enough votes to keep Gorsuch under the 60-vote threshold needed to choke off a filibuster. He told The Washington Post last week that it was "virtually impossible" for any senators to broker a last-minute deal to avoid that result, which will then prompt Republicans to change Senate rules on a party-line vote to end super-majority requirements for Supreme Court justices.

So far, just Manchin and Heitkamp, from states that Trump won last year by more than 35 percentage points, have joined all 52 Republicans in supporting Gorsuch. The result is that a dozen liberal groups are rounding up signatures to try to prevent the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from supporting the senators. It could be a self-defeating move for Democrats: both Manchin and Heitkamp are widely considered the only possible members of their party who might be able to win in those deeply conservative states.

One member of this coalition, We Will Replace You, is a new super PAC with a central goal of funding primary opponents against Democrats who make any positive overtures toward Trump. "The next crucial step is escalating our demands, and demonstrating that we won't accept anything less than full opposition," its mission statement says.

Schumer has repeatedly said he would work with Trump if the president moved to the middle.

Yet the Democratic leader told The Post last week that, in a meeting with Trump earlier this year, Schumer told the president that his party would oppose all 21 names on a list of potential Supreme Court nominees. Schumer said, however, that he has not offered the president a single name of a candidate who would not be the victim of Democratic obstruction.

One Democrat, Sen. Chris Coons (Del.), made a slight effort to try to find a compromise on Gorsuch. But the effort was immediately pilloried by liberal groups demanding a filibuster.

The talks collapsed, in a fashion that sums up much of the current state of Washington.

"There is not a lot of common ground and trust to work on, but I'm open to anyone who's got a reasonable suggestion," Coons said last week.

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