January 26 2022
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Trump acolytes poised to push out Senate dealmakers


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Published on August 31, 2021 10:40 AM
If Senate Republicans seem conservative now, just wait until next year. The 2022 midterms could usher in a wave of full-spectrum MAGA supporters who would turn the GOP conference an even deeper shade of red — and make the Senate a lot more like the fractious House.

In the five states where Republican senators are retiring, the primary election fields to succeed them are crowded with Donald Trump supporters who have made loyalty to the former president a cornerstone of their campaigns.

The three top candidates to succeed Sen. Richard Burr in North Carolina have all denounced his vote to convict Trump in his last impeachment trial. In Pennsylvania, the four leading candidates to succeed Sen. Pat Toomey — who, like Burr, was formally rebuked by the state party for his impeachment vote — have embraced Trump's calls for an "audit" of the state's presidential election results, to varying degrees.

The absolute fealty to Trump is only part of the change this class of candidates would herald. There are institutional implications for the Senate as well. The bipartisan infrastructure deal Ohio's Sen. Rob Portman helped broker? Six of the top GOP candidates vying to replace him have rejected it.

At least five current House members have announced they are running for the open Senate seats, nearly all of whom are more hard-line conservative than the senators they'd replace.

Most of the newcomers would accelerate the GOP's transition from tea party to Trump party, complicating the job of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who broke with Trump after the Jan. 6 riots that led to the president's second impeachment.

"Trump has reshaped the Republican Party. We're now a blue-collar party. We're an America first party," said Michael Whatley, the chair of the North Carolina GOP. "It's a different party than it was when [retiring Missouri Sen.] Roy Blunt and Richard Burr first got elected. And I don't think the party is going back. It's tough on China, protect the border, fight for the Second Amendment, fight for life. That has been an enormously popular agenda with the base."

McConnell has already indicated his willingness to intervene in GOP primary battles — even against Trump-backed candidates — if he perceives there are electability issues that might endanger the party's chances of winning the seat. It's an acknowledgment of a Senate landscape where Republicans have little room for error in their bid to win back the majority in the evenly divided chamber.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell attends a press conference. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell broke with Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 riots that led to the president's second impeachment. | Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Already that dynamic is leading to tensions in Missouri, where GOP officials worry the candidacy of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens — who resigned office amid a 2018 sex scandal — will jeopardize the party's chances of holding Blunt's seat.

Greitens, the Republican primary frontrunner, made it clear in a March radio interview that he has no intention of following in the footsteps of Blunt, a deal-maker and close McConnell ally.

"Unfortunately, Roy Blunt has been out siding with Mitch McConnell," the former governor said. "He's been criticizing the president of the United States over what happened on Jan. 6. He's been criticizing the president of the United States for