One week after Donald Trump’s monumental legislative defeat on healthcare, the open warfare inside the Republican Party has reached a new level.
In an unprecedented move, the president on Thursday issued what observers considered a declaration of war against his party’s ultra-conservatives.
Trump tweeted that the powerful Freedom Caucus “will hurt the entire Republican agenda” if they keep clashing with the leadership of their party.
Trump identified the 30-plus members of the Freedom Caucus as political attack targets, together with the Democratic opposition, in the 2018 Congressional elections.
“We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!”, Trump wrote in his 9:07AM tweet.
The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 2017. március 30.
Trump’s missive is a reaction to last Friday’s bitter legislative defeat, when his Republican majority in the House of Representatives was unable to muster the necessary votes to pass a health care bill that would have repealed and replaced Obamacare.
An unusual coalition of the Freedom Caucus and moderate Republicans had refused to back the bill that also had no support from Democrats. In light of this reality, the Republican leadership withdrew the bill.
Trump’s attack tweet was an escalation of the fight between him and his party’s conservatives who shot back less than an hour later.
“It didn’t take long for the swamp to drain @realDonaldTrump. No shame, Mr. President. Almost everyone succumbs to the D.C. Establishment.”, tweeted Congressman Justin Amash, a member of the Freedom Caucus.
A few hours later, Amash compared Trump’s tactics to a child’s behavior. “This is not how it works”, Amash told reporters on his way to his office.
The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives avoided to take sides, but offered lukewarm support for Trump.
“I understand the president’s frustration” following the healthcare debacle, said Speaker Paul Ryan at a press conference on Capitol Hill.
The Republican infighting has not been limited to the House.
Ryan and a top Senate Republican engaged in a brief public spat Thursday about comments Ryan made earlier in the morning, seeming to suggest Trump should not try to work with Democrats.
“What I worry about (…) is that if we don’t do this, then he’ll just go work with Democrats to try and change Obamacare and that’s not – that’s hardly a conservative thing,” Ryan told CBS.
Senator Bob Corker, a strong Trump supporter during the campaign, shot back on Twitter: “We have come a long way in our country when the speaker of one party urges a president NOT to work with the other party to solve a problem.”
Ryan, during his news conference, dismissed Corker’s remarks.
“They’re not going to help us repeal Obamacare, that’s my point,” Ryan said of Democratic lawmakers.
The president has openly mused about working with Democrats on an alternative healthcare plan. But it will be difficult for Trump to persuade Democrats to get on board with significant changes to former President Obama’s signature domestic achievement.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted that Trump’s healthcare plans would only bring “devastation” upon American families.
The politics of #TrumpCare matter far less than the devastation it would bring upon American families.— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) 2017. március 30.
With his poll numbers sitting at historic lows, Democrats also have little incentive to work with him on tax reform on a major infrastructure package, especially after he pledged to fight them in next year’s elections.
The infighting within the House Republican conference, meanwhile, could pose challenges for those items as well as a must-pass spending bill to keep the government open beyond the April 29 funding deadline.