What we witnessed over the last few days within the Senate GOP Conference can accurately be described as the final countdown for the “Old Republican Party.”
→ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed for the inclusion of U.S. aid for Ukraine in a September spending bill until the last minute when his conference overruled him. Several weeks later, McConnell changed tack and embraced his conference’s demand for border security as a condition for Ukraine funding.
→ Four months later — and within 24 hours of the legislative text finally being released — that entire construct collapsed. McConnell and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) had the rug pulled out from under them in the face of overwhelming opposition from his colleagues — and former President Donald Trump.
This internal struggle was, in many ways, the death knell of the old Republican Party once personified by the Senate GOP Conference and its longtime leader, McConnell. Even during Trump’s presidency, there was still some independence to be found in that conference. Not anymore.
A defiant McConnell on Tuesday pushed back on the criticism that he was misreading his colleagues.
“I followed the instructions of my conference, who were insisting that we tackle this in October. I mean, it’s actually our side that wanted to tackle the border issue. We started it,” McConnell said, adding that “things have changed over the last four months.”
Years in the making: The structures and standards that have come to define the GOP have been breaking down since the Tea Party movement began in 2009. They were further eroded when Trump won the White House in 2016. But in recent months, the last holdout of the old Republican Party — the Senate GOP Conference — has all but abandoned many of its generational positions on foreign policy and governance.
The new GOP is against funding for Ukraine, eschewing the muscular foreign policy that defined the Republican Party in the post-WWII era. Those who subscribe to this new view are no longer an irrelevant minority in the GOP Conference.
“Frankly, a lot of the leadership in the Republican Conference has spoken to their own members like children,” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), one of Trump’s staunchest allies on the Hill, told us. “And I think they’re seeing that the children have developed some thoughts of their own.”
Changing times: McConnell, perhaps the embodiment of the Republican Party for the last 40 years, is increasingly looking like an anachronism — and not just on policy. Even the appearance of working with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is a no-go for some Republicans. And partnering with Democrats to pass legislation — despite it’s necessary given the filibuster — is heresy. The future of the filibuster itself if Republicans hold the House, Senate and White House next year is very much in doubt.
Here’s Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has been critical of his party’s shift:
— Andrew Desiderio, Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan