A House Divided: MAGA Republicans Face Their First Great Schism

Since its inception, the Make America Great Again movement has enjoyed a remarkable level of unity and loyalty. As its architect Donald Trump once put it, he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still not lose the support of the 30-40% of Republican voters dedicated to him. But as the ugly debacle of choosing a GOP speaker of the House enters its third day, we are seeing something that we haven’t before, a genuine schism in Trump World.

At issue, of course, is whether Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will continue to reside in the speaker’s office he has already moved into. The 20 bloody-minded objectors who oppose him, led by Reps. Matt Gaetz (FL), Lauren Boebert (CO), and Chip Roy (TX) aren’t just MAGA types, they are, as Joe Biden might say, “Ultra MAGA,” and lined up against them is not only the vast majority of GOP-elected officials, but Trump himself.

This is new. There have been some matters of disagreement in the past between followers of the 45th president, divisions on Ukraine come to mind, but nothing like this. The basic narrative of MAGA has been that to his most ardent devotees, Trump can do no wrong and that more traditional Republicans are too afraid of voter backlash to openly defy him. And yet, on Tuesday it was Boebert openly defying Trump and even clapping back at him on the floor of the House, practically boasting that Trump’s phone calls urging her and her allies to “knock it off” with their opposition fell upon deaf ears.

It is useful to lay out exactly who from the universe of MAGA is on each side of the debate over McCarthy’s future. As noted above, the objectors to a person are strong Trump supporters, but so too are the media and social media figures aligned against McCarthy. Staunch Trumpers such as Lou Dobbs and Todd Starnes, along with many others are, albeit respectfully, remain unmoved by Trump’s calls to support McCarthy. 

On the other side, aligned with the less Trumpy wing of the party is Trump himself, but also MAGA warriors like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Jim Banks (R-IN), and Jim Jordan (R-OH). Conservative media figures like Fox News’ Sean Hannity and Breitbart’s Joel Pollak are also on team McCarthy. The important question becomes, can we discern and define these two factions, and are they permanent or is this a temporary schism limited to the issue of McCarthy.

Some, such as Commentary’s Noah Rothman have suggested that the objectors and their ilk are essentially anti-institutionalists and there seems to be something to this. While some of them clearly have personal animosity towards McCarthy, their real argument is that they want leadership in general to have less control of governance. The real division here is between those in the MAGA movement who believe the right leader (read “Trump”) can make our institutions of government work and those who believe that wholesale change to the system (read “burn it all down”) is needed. 

Finally, there are the American people. It is hard to know to what extent average folks who don’t spend all day venting on Twitter even care about these procedural battles or if they will impact their support for Trump in this, his third, run for the White House. Trump has not exactly gone to the mattresses for McCarthy; he isn’t threatening the objectors, but there is no denying that he appears weakened as he fails to control what has been the heart of his caucus. 

In the end, draining the swamp, as Trump has long promised to do, is different than burning it all down, and these competing impulses may indeed play out as a permanent ideological division for the MAGA movement. Can the movement itself survive this schism? That is, arguably for the first time since Trump descended the golden escalator, an open question. 

It is possible that when the speakership debacle is done and settled the wounds will heal quickly for the Mar-a-Lago set, as everyone rallies around Trump’s flag, but it is also possible that MAGA withers, that new faces like Ron DeSantis capture the zeitgeist of the new Right and move in the direction of a post-MAGA populism.

Whatever the outcome, Trump World today is very different from the Trump World that existed before the speaker battle. The sometimes angry, sometimes merry band of red-hat-wearing rally goers are having their first serious spat, whether the lines are in stone or in sand, they have been drawn, the battle has been joined and the future of MAGA and Trump hangs in the balance.

David Marcus is a political columnist and author of “Charade: The Covid Lies That Crushed A Nation.” Follow him on Twitter: @BlueBoxDave

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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