The Republican Party schism may end up tearing GOP leadership from the House and Senate apart

The Republican Party schism may end up tearing GOP leadership from the House and Senate apart
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) look on as US President Donald Trump speaks at the Oval Office of the White House on March 27, 2020.JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images
  • The GOP is currently reckoning with a rift between traditional Republicans and Trump supporters.
  • However, the Senate seems more willing than the House to distance from the former president.
  • Experts said term lengths, fundraising, and long-term planning are all contributing to the divide.

As the Republican Party moves forward after a tumultuous four years led by President Donald Trump, Congressional GOP leadership seems to be tearing apart.

Experts told Insider that most Republican lawmakers are still trying to assess what role Trump will have in the party and how much sway he continues to have with voters, but each chamber seems to be handling the uncertainty differently.

Last week, freshman GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, an avid Trump supporter, received a slew of criticism over past expressions of support for political violence and conspiracy theories. However, the response from Republican leadership in each chamber was notably different.

Read more: Republicans should be worried about what Marjorie Taylor Greene will say next

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the embrace of conspiracy theories was a "cancer for the Republican Party," in an apparent reference to Greene. He said anyone who suggested some of the things Greene has, including that some school shootings were staged false-flag events, "is not living in reality."


However, while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy denounced Greene's comments, he also defended her, saying she shouldn't be judged on things she said before becoming a member of Congress.

"The divide between the more traditional or establishment wing and the more MAGA wing of the Republican Party is pretty clear on both sides of Capitol Hill," Jonathan Krasno, a professor of political science at Binghamton University in New York, told Insider.

But, he said, a few key factors "have deepened the apparent disparity between the Senate and House."

First, Krasno noted, senators represent whole states, which means they likely have a much more diverse base of constituents than members of the House, who represent single districts within their states.

"There are probably Republican House members from Kentucky who would find it suicidal to criticize Marjorie Taylor Greene as directly as McConnell has and others who wouldn't be hurt as much," Krasno said.


McConnell and other senators may feel like they can openly criticize Greene or other Trump loyalists without experiencing severe electoral consequences. This difference is also enhanced by the fact that senators serve six-year terms, rather than representatives' two-year terms, so they may be less likely to have a single comment or decision come back to haunt them.

Read more: Republicans are reluctant to say who's the new GOP boss with Trump gone from the White House

Kevin Kosar, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-editor of the book "Congress Overwhelmed," echoed those sentiments, pointing to a pair of votes that took place in the House last week to demonstrate the point.

The first was a secret vote among the Republican members over whether Rep. Liz Cheney, who voted to impeach Trump, should keep her leadership position. The second was a public vote, held among all members of the House, over whether Greene should be removed from her committee assignments.

Republicans voted overwhelmingly in Greene's favor. (The Democrat majority plus 11 Republicans still stripped her of her committee seats.)


"Like impeachment, this vote was a test of overt party loyalty. With GOP voters watching, most legislators felt obligated to toe the Trumpy line," Kosar said.

However, Republicans also voted in favor of Cheney, in apparent opposition to the stance of the most loyal Trump supporters.

"There, legislators did not have to tell GOP voters how they voted, and an overwhelming number of them took the non-Trumpy position," Kosar said.

He said the secret Cheney vote was, in part, a proxy for how House members really feel about impeachment and Trump: "in their heart of hearts only a minority of the House GOP are loyal Trumpists."

But you wouldn't know it based on their public votes and comments, like the Greene vote, which tend to overwhelmingly cater to Trump's supporters.


Money is likely another reason the Senate seems more willing to separate from the MAGA wing of the party, Krasno said. Senate races typically cost much more money than House races. However, some corporate giants announced they were suspending funding to some Republican lawmakers in the wake of the Capitol siege.

"Senators realize they need the donors that have been communicating their reluctance or downright refusal to give to Republican campaigns and committees," Krasno said, adding that representatives might be less concerned because their races are cheaper and they can raise what they need.

Ultimately, Senate leadership appears to be looking ahead more than House leadership.

Krasno said McConnell is clearly trying to position the GOP to regain the House majority in 2022 by succeeding in winnable races in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.

"McCarthy, on the other hand, has not managed to focus his caucus on electoral politics and seems intent on surviving each week," he said. "It's a pretty stark contrast."