Dennis Myers: Republicans in D.C. keep fighting each other


Just after I sat down to write this, I noticed this New York Times headline: “Trump vs. Congress: Now What?”

Keep in mind that both Trump and the two houses of Congress are Republican. There are not supposed to be headlines like “Trump vs. Congress” for at least another 19 months, when congressional majorities will go before voters again. Nor should there be Trump tweets like this, from March 26: “Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood &Ocare!’’

The Freedom Caucus is a gathering of right-wing GOP members of the U.S. House. It’s a close call whether the FC or Trump were more at fault for the failure of the Republican health care legislation. (The Club for Growth helps pay for campaigns by extreme conservatives in GOP primaries and the Heritage Foundation offers policy research with a conservative twist.) After all, the Freedom Caucus was doing what it was formed to do – support very conservative policy proposals.

Trump, on the other hand, was not exactly a big help to the GOP in putting together a health plan. He campaigned in 2015 and 2016 against the Affordable Care Act without ever saying what he would offer as a substitute.

Once he won appointment by electors as president, he still did not announce his plan. Even after 11 weeks of transition between the election and the inauguration, he could not produce legislation on health care. The use of the term “Trumpcare” these past weeks was preposterous.

So the party had to rely on Paul Ryan to come up with a plan. It’s hard to exempt Trump from the blame for GOP failure to agree on the issue. Where, then, does he get off attacking other Republicans for that failure?

Meanwhile, back in Nevada, the state has a safe Republican U.S. House district in the north. It is currently held by U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, who is popular with the party organization and has done pretty well in cutting into the Democratic vote. There’s no way the GOP will lose this district unless there are some peculiar circumstances, like a scandal or a rough party primary.

Enter Sharron Angle.

Angle, the perennial sometime-Republican candidate who pretty much vanished after she helped re-elect Democrat Harry Reid to the U.S. Senate in 2010 (she has been selling a book and raising money among the fringe right) is running against Amodei.

After 2010, she jumped into the 2011 special election in this same U.S. House district, then jumped back out again. That was odd behavior in a race with 16 other candidates where her name recognition might have carried the day. But six years later, with tens of thousands of new residents and fading memories, her recognition is not what it once was.

Nevertheless, in a Republican primary, Angle can make Amodei spend a lot of money. We need only recall the furious state senate primary campaign she ran against Nevada Senate Republican leader William Raggio in 2008. He won a comfortable 5 percentage point margin, but had to spend a bundle doing it. If he’d faced a strong Democrat in the general election, Angle might well have cost the GOP the seat.

These intramural Republican battles are not doing either the party or the country a lot of good. A two-party system works best when both parties are strong and competitive.

Today’s Republican Party should be competing well against the Democrats, but instead its factions are fighting each other. Actually, the same thing is going on in the Democratic Party, but that’s normal for an out-of-power party. A majority party needs to govern, and so far the GOP does not have the cohesiveness to do it.

Dennis Myers is an awardwinning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.