by Matt Kauffman ‘23
In recent years, intense polarization has occurred between the two main political parties of the United States, but another shift has gone somewhat under the radar in the post-Trump era: the increasing divisions within the Republican party itself. There are those who wholeheartedly back Trump and embrace his mentality, and there are those like Reps. Liz Cheney (WO) and Mitt Romney (UT) who were ostracized for criticizing Trump and his role in the January 6 riots. Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (IL) were censured, a sort of condemnation, by the party for their positions in the January 6 House committee to investigate the riots.
The redistribution of congressional districts after the 2020 census exacerbated these divides within the party as the process produced more polarized voting districts across the country. This process is known as “gerrymandering,” and essentially means that the districts are drawn in a way that maximizes the controlling party’s chance of winning as many elections as possible.
The effects of gerrymandered districts are two-fold: first, certain districts are almost guaranteed to vote a certain party into office. Secondly, this means that the real election occurs in the primary, leading to more extreme platforms being taken to appeal to the party’s base. The threat Republicans now face in many districts is not Democrats, but rather someone further than them to the right. Candidates who receive the Trump endorsement will now have an even greater advantage in these increasingly polarized districts.
A perfect example of this occurred in the Houston area, in which Democratic voters were “packed” into certain districts in urban Houston, creating Republican war grounds in the suburbs. Conservative incumbent Dan Crenshaw, an ex-Navy Seal, was labeled as a RINO (Republican in name only) for his support of proposed red flag laws, which were aimed at preventing mentally ill people from obtaining firearms. Because the real competition for House seats now often occurs in the primaries, extremists are gaining power and influence and are targeting moderates of the Republican party. Moderate Republicans, including Crenshaw (who was once considered the poster child for republicanism), now face intense opposition from the inside.
Crenshaw argues that the issue of Trump’s dispute of the 2020 election is “less of an issue,” according to an interview with the New York Times. “This is not what people have asked about over the past year.” Instead, Crenshaw claimed that issues like inflation and the border crisis have been more prevalent in voters’ minds.
Regardless, he has lost significant support within his district for many reasons that go back to his possible shift towards the middle, and the fact that he neglected to mention former President Trump’s name in his speech at the Republican National Convention. He has been cast less as a vision for a more moderate and responsible future, and more like a symbol of an unwanted past.
Although Crenshaw downplayed the extent to which these divisions take roots, other Republicans have welcomed the conflict, such as Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. “We have to draw the line in the sand,” said Greene during a rally in Texas on February 19. “It’s time to embrace the civil war in the GOP.”
In recent years, Trump has become a litmus test for GOP members. The party is seemingly divided between those like Cheney that have distanced themselves from Trump, those like Greene who have embraced the Trump mentality and campaigned on getting him back into the White House, and those like Crenshaw that simply hope that Trump will go away and are caught in the middle.
Whether or not Trump is solely to blame for this division, the Republican party is at a crossroads that threatens to undermine its unity.