Republicans fear the GOP infighting that cost Kevin McCarthy his Speakership could drag them down in front-line races as they look to hold on to the House and flip the Senate.
Many in the GOP say the intraparty chaos paints a picture of a divided party obsessed with the inside workings of Washington and out of touch with voters outside the Beltway.
For swing-district Republicans in states like New York and California, as well as GOP candidates in competitive Senate races, that image could be a liability as the party leans on them heading into 2024.
“I think right now we look like the gang who can’t shoot straight,” Republican strategist Jason Cabel Roe said. “When we’re making an argument that the House of Representatives is the first line of defense in defeating the Biden administration and we can’t even manage our own Republican conference, it’s kind of difficult to make the case that we’re best prepared to stop the Biden agenda.”
There are 18 vulnerable Republicans running in districts that President Biden won in 2020, and Democrats only need to flip a net five seats to win control of the lower chamber. New York Rep. Mike Lawler (R), who represents the state’s 17th Congressional District, is one of those moderate Republicans running in a Biden district.
On Wednesday, Lawler hit Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, accusing the Democrat of aligning himself with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) “to upend the institution and seek political gain in the process.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) fired back at Lawler on the platform, noting his vulnerability going into 2024.
“Nice story,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “You could also do the right thing, Lawler. Your district voted for Biden by 10 pts. You could end this by representing and voting for Jeffries. A lot easier for you to vote your district than expecting me to vote for a man who wants to take my right to choose away.”
In another sign of how tensions are running high within the GOP, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Tuesday lashed out at Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), who was among the eight Republicans who backed ousting McCarthy and who’s considering jumping into his state’s Senate primary against the wishes of some in GOP leadership.
“Maryland Matt Rosendale prays for Democrats to win elections? Did God answer his prayers in 2018 when Jon Tester humiliated him?” Cotton tweeted, referencing a report that Rosendale said he prayed for Republicans to win a small majority in the House in 2022.
“This is just one of many, many reasons that Maryland Matt won’t come within a country mile of the Senate,” Cotton added.
Rosendale’s entry into the Montana GOP Senate primary could pose problems for Senate Republicans, who are hoping to oust Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and who have largely rallied around retired Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy.
Republicans caution that it’s too early to tell how the events of Tuesday will impact next November’s general election. However, there are some short-term impacts members of the party could start feeling as a result of the chaos.
“If there are negative impacts, I think they’d be more indirect,” said Doug Heye, who served as communications director at the Republican National Committee and deputy chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
“There’s going to be a gap in fundraising,” he predicted. “We’ll see that in next month’s FEC [Federal Election Commission] numbers for leadership PACs and the NRCC and so forth,” he added. “That’s because essentially they’re either on pause or the messaging right now, it would be rather questionable. Not to say they’re not sending emails out and so forth, but they’re not going to be doing any finance events with the Speaker in the immediate future.”
Dan Conston, the president of the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), a McCarthy-aligned super PAC, noted the predicament Republicans are in over Tuesday’s vote but said the group would continue its usual work going into a major election year.
“Speaker McCarthy has fundamentally altered House elections for Republicans through his recruitment efforts, his unmatched fundraising prowess, and his ability to inspire and generate confidence among donors,” Conston said in a statement. “While this is an obvious loss for the House, CLF remains laser-focused on our mission of holding radical Democrats accountable, protecting our vulnerable incumbents, and expanding the House Republican majority.”
Republicans also note how the next choice for Speaker could ultimately have a major impact on the party’s vulnerable members. So far, Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Steve Scalise (R-La.) have thrown their hats in the ring for the job.
“I think it’ll depend on how we come through this. If we install a good, competent leader while doing the things that need to be done to govern and lead the party then this will probably be a blip on the radar screen,” Cabel Roe said. “If we continue to see chaotic leadership that’s just lurching from one crisis to another, I think this becomes the signature moment that defines the Republican Party going into the 2024 election.”
Still, many Republicans are bushing off the concerns, saying they don’t expect the drama in the House to permeate outside of the Beltway and noting that it’s not a major concern for the majority of voters.
“No matter how many chaotic headlines the media puts out about Capitol Hill, the Democrats can’t ignore one thing and that’s 53 percent of Americans believe the Republican Party will do a better job keeping our country prosperous compared to 39 percent for Democrats,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, citing a Gallup poll released Tuesday. “That is the top issue now.”
One House Republican strategist echoed this in an interview with The Hill.
“The way we see things is we have to ignore the drama that’s going on in the Capitol and we have to stay on offense because we still have the advantage,” the strategist said. “There may be a small, temporary short slip in polling. That would not surprise me.”
“Long-term, people still go back to what’s affecting their daily lives and who do they trust to fix it,” the strategist said.
Meanwhile, Democrats say that vulnerable GOP members will be in a lose-lose situation regardless of who becomes speaker.
“The American public wants leaders who govern responsibly. This week proved that the House Republican conference is incapable of that,” said Viet Shelton, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “There’s every reason to assume that moving forward the next speaker, in an attempt to appease the MAGA hardliners, will force their vulnerable members to take even more extreme, unpopular votes that will cost them their seats.”
Tom Doherty, a New York Republican strategist, said that the role swing Republicans, like Lawler and fellow New York Rep. Marc Molinaro (R), played in preventing a government shutdown over the weekend will pay dividends.
“They clearly said this is not what we want, that shutting down the government is not an option. They have fought back very hard on Gaetz, and I think that that is a very reasonable approach,” Doherty said.
“If everybody else in those swing districts have done what they have done, I think it actually turns out to be beneficial because it really shows them to be people that want to get stuff done,” he said.
But there’s a number of factors that could impact down-ballot candidates ahead of 2024, including the top of the ticket.
“Much of what the race is going to come down to in 2024, as it always does, is what does the presidential ticket look like?” Doherty said.
Meanwhile, other Republicans warn against putting the cart before the horse.
“We still need to know what’s going to happen. We’re still in the intermission of the play,” Heye said.