House Republicans risk stumbling into the Trump trap

Moderates want to follow voters' clear signals, but MAGA wing readies multiple Biden probes

Former President Donald Trump plays a shot from a bunker on the 18th hole during the pro-am prior to the LIV Golf Invitational - Bedminster at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump plays a shot from a bunker on the 18th hole during the pro-am prior to the LIV Golf Invitational - Bedminster at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Posted December 9, 2022 at 11:43am

House Republicans appear to have learned little from November’s midterm elections, careening instead toward what might be called the Trump trap.

Donald Trump, via his social media platform and in interviews, continues loudly pounding his drum with false claims about a “stolen” and “rigged” 2020 election. The former president, who now falsely denies doing so, went so far last weekend as overtly calling for the country’s bedrock document to be incinerated.

“A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” Trump wrote in a Dec. 3 Truth Social post. The post, yet again, sent Republican lawmakers scrambling. So it goes when a party is locked in a toxic relationship with an overbearing and vindictive partner.

Some GOP members did criticize the former president. This (relatively small) camp argued that only those who recognize the Constitution as American gospel are qualified to be president.

“Of course I disagree with that. I swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, and it is a bedrock principle — it is the principle, the bedrock of our country. So I couldn’t disagree more,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters, according to several media accounts.

One former GOP presidential nominee went so far Thursday as to make a clean break with Trump.

“If President Trump continues in his campaign … if he became our nominee, I think he loses again,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, his party’s 2012 nominee, said during a Washington Post Live event before also slamming the former president’s handpicked congressional candidates.

“President Trump has proven that his selection in the primary is definitive in many cases,” Romney said. “It’s the ticket to winning the primary. It’s also the kiss of death for the general election.”

In both of Trump’s Senate trials, Romney both times voted to convict Trump after he was, for the first time in American history, impeached twice by the House. The duo have, as they say, beef.

Other Republicans opted for what is now a familiar tactic for responding to 45’s most outrageous words and actions: Say everything. Qualify everything. Promise nothing.

Rep. David Joyce of Ohio, chairman of the Republican Governance Group/Tuesday Group, offered a master class last weekend on ABC News’ “This Week” program.

“I will support whoever the Republican nominee is. And just don’t think that, at this point, he will be able to get there because I think there’s a lot of other good quality candidate out there,” Joyce said of the former president when pressed on Trump’s terminate-the-Constitution post.

But what if — Trump remains the frontrunner, according to early 2024 polling — he is the GOP nominee a third time?

“I will support whoever the Republican nominee is,” Joyce said during the same interview. Seconds later, however, he continued his mind-bending rationale by saying this of the Trump Constitution-questioner-in-chief: “Well, you know, he says a lot of things. You have to take him in context.”

Could Trump’s context, for once, have been any clearer?

“And right now I have to worry about making sure this Republican Governance Group and the Republican majority, that we make things work for the American people,” Joyce added. “And I can't be really chasing every one of these crazy statements that come out … from any of these [2024] candidates.”

With that, Joyce made clear what his Tuesday Group mates would prefer — and the potential trap into which the House Republican caucus seems intent on planting its red-booted foot. In many ways, it is a trap set by Trump himself and conservative members still most closely aligned with his “Make America Great Again” movement.

Moderates seem to have a much sharper understanding that the party failed to generate the “red wave” most analysts predicted on Nov. 8 because, in part, crossover voters rejected the former president’s stolen election claims and sided instead with Democratic candidates.

Some incoming House Republican chairs, however, say they are ready to ramp up multiple investigations related to President Joe Biden, his family and his administration.

The House is only slated to be in session for 117 days in 2023. That means, given committees’ relatively small staffs of investigators and attorneys, the time to seriously probe those matters, vet witnesses, sift through evidence and data, and then hold public hearings, is pretty limited.

But the accusations and noise produced by however many hearings the GOP is able to pull off will dominate news coverage and leave social media sites close to a collective meltdown on a near-weekly basis — and that is even if Twitter one day ceases to exist.

Moderate Republicans like Joyce would prefer to try tackling inflation and addressing the southern border, among other matters. But to Trump’s closest House allies, there appear to be but two magic words that will set the country on a better path: Hunter’s. Laptop.

“There's nothing like it in the history of America. We’ve never had a family that has influence-peddled to this degree,” Rep. James R. Comer, R-Ky., the incoming chair of the House Oversight and Reform panel, told Fox News this week. “And if you look at the whole purpose of what we’re talking about today, it’s because this investigation of the Biden family influence-peddling, the evidence is based a lot, in part, with what the documents are and [what] the data is on the laptop.”

They already are preparing plans for public hearings related to the often-troubled presidential offspring’s abandoned personal computer, which they contend possesses information that will show Joe and Hunter Biden possibly broke federal laws with the son’s overseas business dealings in Ukraine, China and elsewhere.

The Justice Department has opened its own probe into possible tax crimes and false statements by Hunter Biden. But so far, no Biden has been charged with criminal wrongdoing.

Like many professional elections forecasters, Republicans calculated the Supreme Court’s June decision to end federal abortion protections had by late summer faded as a motivating force that might hinder GOP candidates.

“How wrong they were,” wrote Brookings Institution analysts Elaine Kamarck and William Galston, both Clinton White House veterans, citing exit polling. “To the obvious surprise of the on-air talent, abortion came in a close second to inflation: 31 percent said inflation was their top issue but 27 percent said abortion was.”

“Central to the story of the 2022 midterms, then, is an issue central to women’s lives, powerful enough to snatch victory from the Republicans, and durable enough to send a message about the future,” Kamarack and Galston noted.

To that end, Hillary Clinton tweeted this about women once enough midterms results were known and it was clear there was no red wave coming: “We vote.” It turns out, women also care about whether lawmakers are taking actions to, borrowing Joyce’s words, “make things work for the American people.”

Yet, many House Republicans are a walking version of Trump’s Truth Social account, which amounts to a kaleidoscope of false claims, wild accusations, baseless conspiracy theories, name-calling, thinly veiled racism — and not one shred of actual evidence.

“Being a RINO in the Republican Party is like living in the past. Nothing good comes from them,” Trump wrote on the social media platform Wednesday, showing no signs he understood the irony, given his 2020 obsession.

Beware, the Trump trap.

It should be easy to spot. Its jaws have an extra coat of MAGA red paint, meant for post-election House and Senate maps that needed a lot more blue in places just about no one expected on Nov. 7.

Editor-at-Large John T. Bennett writes a weekly column for Roll Call, parts of which first appeared in the subscription-based CQ Afternoon Briefing newsletter.