A conservative group bashed Pat Toomey as a RINO, a “Republican in Name Only”, a decade after it endorsed the Senator from Pennsylvania in an election where some worried he was too conservative to win, a sign of the changing shape of the GOP.
“Senate RINOs are calling it quits!” the Senate Conservatives Fund wrote in a a fundraising appeal last week, calling out Mr Toomey, who was among the seven Republicans who voted to convict the former president during his second impeachment.
The email singled out GOP senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Richard Shelby of Alabama, all of whom are retiring. “The mainstream media believes these departures are a loss for the Republican Party, but they actually create a unique opportunity to replace weak Republicans next year with strong conservatives who will truly fight for our principles and values,” it added.
Mr Shelby cited this sort of bare-knuckle politics and “partisan gridlock” as one of his reasons for leaving.
It’s the latest indication that the battle inside the Republican party between establish conservatives and a more pro-Trump, insurgent wing of the party aren’t done clashing even though the leader of this conflict isn’t in the White House anymore.
“This is the beginning. It’s starting really early, it’s crazy,” Brian Darling, a GOP strategis, told The Hill, which first reported the news. “We’re going to see a battle between the establishment and the conservative wing of the party and that’s playing out with the Senate Conservatives Fund and many of the more establishment groups that will be backing up incumbents no matter what.”
It’s an especially telling shift given that in the 2009-2010, during the rise of the Tea Party movement, the Fund actually backed Mr Toomey as a challenger against Arlen Specter.
And it’s only likely to continue, as Donald Trump, who is still beloved by the Republican base, looks to play a kingmaker role ahead of the next round of midterm elections.
The most recent example of this divide within the party was the controversy over Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Trump ally whose history of making racist remarks led Democrats to strip her of her committee assignments, while some Republicans defended her and others condemned her.
Mr Trump also hasn’t been afraid to go at his own party, vowing to campaign against the “disloyal” senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who also voted against him in the impeachment.
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