For the last six months, Republicans in the Senate, ably led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have been remarkably consistent about their unwillingness to expand the strike zone for COVID-19 relief. They believe that a modest package, focused on help to citizens — rather than mostly profligate states — and liability protections for businesses is more likely to help the economy recover than simply turning on the firehose of cash and spraying it liberally in all directions.
This approach has held steady despite the Trump administration’s persistent pressure and the routine hectoring of Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.
Part of the resistance is, of course, precisely because it is the secretary of the treasury who is leading the administration’s efforts. Many Republican senators are confident that Mr. Mnuchin is a Democrat who prefers Democratic solutions.
But the larger part of the resistance to the president’s preferences is based on the clear understanding by Republican senators — both as a body and as individuals — that this tussle over coronavirus relief is really the opening salvo in the contest for control of the Republican Party after President Trump vacates office.
Whether the president leaves office on Jan. 20, 2021, or Jan. 20, 2025, the campaign to replace him will begin in earnest Nov. 4. He will win or lose the election in two weeks, and in either case the Republican Party is going to need a new set of leaders. Some of those who will audition for those jobs currently sit in the Senate.
That said, it is reasonable to expect that the president, whatever the outcome of the election, and his family and friends will be involved in Republican politics for the foreseeable future.
Think about it for a moment. How difficult is it to imagine that Team Trump will take the database they have developed (75 million people!) and use it to develop a new cable network or talk radio shows or simply sell branded products? Is it conceivable that Mr. Trump will seek to ensure that his namesake son is installed as the chairman of the Republican National Committee, both as a precaution and a stepping stone to his own career in elective office?
The campaign and the candidate seem content to talk to those 75 million or so voters/consumers, rather than expanding the circle, focusing on winning this election, and executing a second term that is more ambitious, better organized, and fixes the problems facing the United States.
When was the last time you heard anyone talk about what might actually get done in a second term? Mr. Trump’s rallies typically feature extensive commentary on 2016 Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and this year’s foe, Joseph R. Biden and (recently) his son Hunter, and on increasingly obscure (to the average voter) references to the Obama administration’s possibly criminal mistreatment of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Unfortunately, none of those issues is likely to move any voters.
Compare that to the relatively crisp messages written by Stephen Miller and delivered during the 2016 rallies. Immigration. Trade. Tax policy. Energy. Reshoring factories and supply chains. Reducing foreign adventurism. Recrudescing American greatness.
The battle for the next version of the Republican Party is about to be joined. The senators know that Mr. Trump will never be on a ballot again after this Election Day.
But they will, and the next generation of the party and its leaders will be.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
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