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Home/Daniel Larison/Trump’s Clumsy, Self-Defeating Attack on the Freedom Caucus

Trump’s Clumsy, Self-Defeating Attack on the Freedom Caucus

Trump is targeting the House Freedom Caucus members for defeat in the midterms:

President Trump effectively declared war Thursday on the House Freedom Caucus, the powerful group of hard-line conservative Republicans who blocked the GOP health-care bill, vowing to “fight them” in the 2018 midterm elections.

In a morning tweet, Trump warned that the Freedom Caucus would “hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast.” He grouped its members, all of them Republican, with Democrats in calling for their political defeat — an extraordinary incitement of intraparty combat from a sitting president.

I have a lot of respect for many of the members of this caucus, so it’s unsurprising that I find this obnoxious, but it’s also a self-defeating and stupid thing for Trump to do. If Trump wants the GOP to retain control of the House in next year’s elections, he can’t afford to work against the re-election of nearly three dozen Republican members of Congress. If Trump “succeeds” in ousting some Freedom Caucus members, that might very easily combine with a midterm backlash against him to produce a Democratic majority. Given Trump’s poor approval ratings, he needs to be working for the re-election of every Republican incumbent instead of looking for ways to unseat a large number of them.

The bigger danger for Trump is that he will be ignored and these members will coast to re-election (as most incumbents usually do anyway), and that will show how little influence he has in his own party. Trump also misunderstands the House members he is trying to bully if he thinks that going after them publicly like this will make them “get on the team.” Trying to intimidate the members into falling in line will more likely make them less cooperative, because many of them will take as a test of conviction. Beyond that, it will allow them to separate themselves from Trump in the eyes of their voters. That might make some of them vulnerable to a primary challenge, but at this point distance from Trump will help many of them in a general election.

Trump operates as if he were well-liked and held in high esteem by most Americans. That is not the case. If he and his agenda had broad popular backing, it might be politically dangerous for members of Congress to be seen resisting him, but they don’t and it isn’t.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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