The real disarray: Republicans imploding over Trump loyalty tests and outrageous behavior

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Republicans are headed for a knock-down drag-out primary May 24 in Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp – who last year resisted President Donald Trump’s pressure to overturn his state’s win for Democrat Joe Biden – has just learned he’ll be facing off against Trump ally David Perdue, who lost his Senate seat this year in part because Trump's lawyers said the election was rigged and urged Republicans not to vote. So it’s time for another round of “Democrats in disarray,” right?

The double standard is absolutely maddening. “Imploding Republicans” isn’t nearly as catchy as “Democrats in disarray,” but by rights it should be dominating the news every day. Because that’s pretty much how often GOP implosions happen.

Republicans are bitterly split over whether Trump is a force for good or evil in their party, whether he should have been impeached once, twice or never, whether his role in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol attack should be investigated in full or glossed over as a nothingburger, whether he should run in 2024 and even whether he won the last election, as he still falsely insists he did.

I'll take Democratic disarray any day

And with Trump setting the tone, Republican disarray is like World Wrestling Entertainment, except meaner, with less alliteration and more potential for real-life harm.

GOP Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia listening to Attorney General Merrick Garland at a hearing on Oct. 12, 2021 in Washington, D.C.
GOP Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia listening to Attorney General Merrick Garland at a hearing on Oct. 12, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

It's Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert joking about a Muslim colleague being a “jihad squad” terrorist, South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace criticizing Boebert, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene calling Mace “trash” and saying she and Trump think Mace should be primaried, and Mace responding: "All I can say about Marjorie Taylor Greene is bless her f------ heart."

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A Republican governor does one basic thing – uphold Biden’s victory in a state Biden won – and his reward is abuse and a primary opponent recruited by Trump. Thirteen House Republicans do one constructive thing – vote for a bipartisan infrastructure bill – and get branded as traitors who should lose their committee seats and face primary challenges. Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar posts an anime video of himself killing New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Biden, and only two Republicans vote to censure him. A few days after the Michigan school shooting, Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie posts a Christmas card of his family brandishing guns, draws critiques from all sides and tries to get a conservative libertarian editor fired.

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Give me the Democrats’ brand of disarray any day of the week. The prime source of it is their endless haggling (aka negotiating) over the length and costs and timing of programs that most of them support – paid family leave; universal pre-K; Medicare that covers hearing, dental and vision benefits; a stronger home health care system; and more affordable college, child care and health coverage.

US president Joe Biden speaks at the NJ Transit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex during an event to promote his build back better agenda in Kearny, New Jersey on October 25, 2021.
US president Joe Biden speaks at the NJ Transit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex during an event to promote his build back better agenda in Kearny, New Jersey on October 25, 2021.

Democratic policy disagreements stem from the progressive desire to swing for the fences, the moderate instinct for caution on scale and spending, and the bare majorities that mean both sides need to give. For the most part, both sides realize this, and progressives in particular have been impressive in their willingness to compromise on both timing of votes and the substance of what’s in their various bills.

By contrast, the trademark of the hardcore conservative House Freedom Caucus is defying GOP leaders, not getting things done. The group arose from the Tea Party movement and now is dominated by Trump allies – in fact, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows are both former Freedom Caucus chairs.

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GOP Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina await President Donald J. Trump's State of the Union address in the House chamber on Feb. 4, 2020.
GOP Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina await President Donald J. Trump's State of the Union address in the House chamber on Feb. 4, 2020.

The caucus essentially forced House Speaker John Boehner out of his job in 2015, helped block current Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy from succeeding Boehner that year, tormented House Speaker Paul Ryan and now is pressing McCarthy – trying once again for the speaker job – to be tougher on those they consider disloyal to Trump. It’s disarray on steroids!

This is not to say Democrats are never in disarray. The party certainly was divided over whether Biden’s messy and tragic Afghanistan exit was inevitable or a disaster that could have been avoided. Vice President Kamala Harris is enduring scrutiny now over her management and political skills. And there’s a pronounced party split over whether to kill the filibuster, the Senate procedure that has thwarted their 51-vote majority from achieving police reform, voting rights standards, election protection and many other priorities.

Political scorched earth in Georgia

But consider this: If Biden were more like Trump, he’d be sponsoring a primary opponent to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who wants to preserve the filibuster and has been trying to shrink and delay the “Build Back Better” family and climate package for months.

On the other hand, they’ve known each other for a long time, and Biden named Manchin’s well-qualified wife, Gayle, as federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. Manchin is still at the negotiating table with Democrats on several issues, and ultimately I can’t see him deep-sixing a bill so crucial to Biden’s success. It’s nearly as unimaginable as Biden orchestrating an intraparty primary like the one Trump ignited on Monday.

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Perdue is trying to take the race straight to Democrat Stacey Abrams (who narrowly lost to Kemp in 2018 when he was secretary of state – a massive conflict of interest since he was in charge of his own election). This time, Kemp must first vanquish not just Perdue but also Trump and his devoted followers.

As Republican strategist Brian Robinson put it to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, recalling a Union general's scorched-earth march through Georgia in 1864: “Sherman left more standing than this primary will.”

“Republicans in ruins”? A girl can dream.

Jill Lawrence is a columnist for USA TODAY and author of "The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock." Follow her on Twitter: @JillDLawrence

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump loyalty tests and outrageous behavior throw GOP into disarray

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