What Will a Post-Trump G.O.P. Look Like?

And consider, what will it take for the Republican Party to begin to heal itself?

If Donald Trump stages another come-from-behind victory in November — helped, in all likelihood, by the collapse of public order in American cities — the Republican Party will become an oddity for the Trump Organization: the only entity it owns but does not brand. Not only will Trump remain in office for another term, but the Trumpers will also dominate the G.O.P. for another generation.

Look for Tom Cotton to be the likely nominee in 2024 (with — why not? — Laura Ingraham as his running mate).

And if Trump loses? Then the future of the party will be up for grabs. It’s time to start thinking about who can grab it, who should, and who will.

Much depends on the margin of defeat. If it’s razor thin and comes down to a vote-count dispute in a single state, as it did in Florida in 2000, Trump will almost surely allege fraud, claim victory and set off a constitutional crisis. As Ohio State law professor Edward Foley noted last year in a must-read law review article, a state like Pennsylvania could send competing certificates of electoral votes to Congress. Interpretive ambiguities in the 12th Amendment and the Electoral Count Act of 1887 could deadlock the House and the Senate. We could have two self-declared presidents on the eve of next year’s inauguration.

Who controls the nuclear football in that event is a question someone needs to start thinking about right now.

But let’s assume Trump loses narrowly but indisputably. In that case, the Trump family will do what it can to retain control of the G.O.P.

Tommy Hicks Jr., the current Republican National Committee co-chairman, is one possible candidate to move up to become chairman, and run the R.N.C., but the likelier choice is Hicks’s good friend Donald Trump Jr. The Trumpers will make the argument that NeverTrumpers cost them the election and are thus responsible for everything bad that might happen in a Biden administration, from crime on the streets to liberal Supreme Court picks to some future Benghazi-type episode.

Something unpleasant might come of this. It tends to happen whenever a large mass of conformists convince themselves that they’ve been betrayed by a nonconforming minority in their midst.

Then there’s the third scenario: An overwhelming and humiliating Trump defeat, on the order of George H.W. Bush’s 168 to 370 electoral vote loss to Bill Clinton in 1992.

The infighting will begin the moment Florida, North Carolina or any other must-win state for Trump is called for Joe Biden. It will pit two main camps against each other. On the right, it will be the What Were We Thinking? side of the party. On the further right, the Trump Didn’t Go Far Enough side. Think of it as a cage match between Marco Rubio and Tucker Carlson for the soul of the G.O.P.

Both sides will recognize that Trump was a uniquely incompetent executive who — as in his business dealings —

  • always proved his own worst enemy,
  • always squandered his luck,
  • never learned from his mistakes,
  • never grew in office.

Both sides will want to wash their hands of the soon-to-be-former president, his obnoxious relatives, their intellectual vacuity and their self-dealing ways. And both will have to tread carefully around a wounded and bitter man who, like a minefield laid for some long-ago war, still has the power to kill anyone who missteps.

That’s where agreement ends. The What Were We Thinking? Republicans will want to hurry the party back to some version of what it was when Paul Ryan was its star. They’ll want to pretend that Trump never happened. They will organize a task force composed of former party worthies to write an election post-mortemakin to what then-G.O.P. chair Reince Priebus did after 2012, emphasizing the need to repair relations with minorities, women and younger voters. They’ll talk up the virtues of Republicans as

  • reformers and problem-solvers, not
  • Know-Nothings and culture warriors.

The Didn’t Go Far Enough camp will make the opposite case. They’ll note that Trump

  • never built the wall,
  • never got U.S. troops out of the Middle East,
  • never drained the swamp of Beltway corruption,
  • ended NAFTA in name only,
  • did Wall Street’s bidding at Main Street’s expense, and
  • “owned the libs” on Twitter while losing the broader battle of ideas.

This camp will seek a new champion: Trump plus a brain.

These are two deeply unattractive versions of the party of Lincoln, one feckless, the other fanatical. Even so, all who care about the health of American democracy should hold their noses and hope the feckless side prevails.

As with the Democrats after Jimmy Carter’s defeat in 1980, it will probably take more than one electoral shellacking for conservative-leaning voters to appreciate the scale of disaster that Trump’s presidency inflicted on the party and the country. It will probably also take more than one defeat for the party to learn that electoral contests should still be waged, and won, near the center of the ideological spectrum, not the fringe.

But everything has to start somewhere. A decisive Trump loss in November isn’t a sufficient condition for the G.O.P. to begin to heal itself. It’s still a beginning.

The Trump team’s increasingly jumbled case for striking Qasem Soleimani

It has been nearly a week since the killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, and the justification for the strike is still clear as mud.

The Trump administration initially said Soleimani was planning “imminent” attacks on Americans and U.S. interests in the Middle East, but it hasn’t provided much in the way of elaboration. It has since oscillated between pointing to the imminence of such attacks and suggesting that the strike was retaliatory for what Soleimani had already done. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to say whether the attacks were days or weeks away. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, unambiguously endorsed the idea of imminent attacks, but he also said the intelligence didn’t “exactly say who, what, when, where.”

And now, in the past 24 hours, it has become even more opaque.

Coming out of a private briefing on the subject Wednesday, Republican Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) decried the lack of information. Lee called it probably the worst briefing I have seen, at least on a military issue,” and said the administration had “not really” done anything to establish the imminence of the attacks.

Paul added: “I didn’t learn anything in the hearing that I hadn’t seen in a newspaper already. None of it was overwhelming that X was going to happen.”

Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), in contrast, called it “one of the best briefings I’ve had since I’ve been here in the United States Congress.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called it “a compelling briefing” and said it was unthinkable that anyone wouldn’t support the strike based on the information presented.

It’s important to note that the libertarian-minded Lee and Paul are big proponents of congressional authorization for military action, so it’s perhaps not surprising that they would be some of the more difficult gets for the administration on this subject. But that’s still two Republican senators who say a GOP administration just hasn’t provided the goods — or anything close.

With that as the backdrop Thursday, President Trump and Vice President Pence piled on the uncertainty. Appearing on the “Today” show, Pence said the Trump administration did not share some of the most important information because of its sensitivity.

Some of the most compelling evidence that Qasem Soleimani was preparing an imminent attack against American forces and American personnel also represents some of the most sensitive intelligence that we have,” Pence told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. “It could compromise those sources and methods.”

Pence added on Fox News that “we’re simply not able to share with every member of the House and Senate the intelligence that supported the president’s decision to take out Qasem Soleimani,” but “I can assure your viewers that there was — there was a threat of an imminent attack.

So to recap: The White House is now saying that the information provided to lawmakers indeed may not have been as compelling as it could have been, but that Congress and the American people just need to trust that it’s there.

And then, to top it all off, Trump came out around noon on Thursday and disclosed one of Soleimani’s alleged plots: to blow up a U.S. embassy.

We did it because they were looking to blow up our embassy,” Trump said. “We also did it for other reasons that were very obvious.”

Trump has the ability to declassify anything he wants to, but it was a curious sudden disclosure for an administration that had for six days resisted saying much of anything. It’s also difficult to believe that lawmakers who were told about a potential embassy attack in any real detail would say it was a nothingburger — no matter their political leanings.

As The Post’s Shane Harris noted, the idea that such information can’t be shared with Congress is also difficult to swallow. Even if an administration doesn’t share all the information widely with Congress for fear of leaks, it generally shares highly classified information with a smaller group of high-ranking lawmakers who are experienced in intelligence matters.

Shane Harris

@shaneharris

Be skeptical: The executive routinely shares highly-classified information with lawmakers, particularly Gang of 8, who are notified about covert actions. Officials have also been talking for days about intelligence (in more than general terms, btw) that led to Soleimani’s death. https://twitter.com/NBCNews/status/1215255923977080832 

NBC News

@NBCNews

NEW: Responding to criticism of congressional briefings, VP Pence asserts to @SavannahGuthrie that admin. could not share with the US Congress some of “most compelling” intel around the Iran strike because doing so “could compromise sources and methods.” https://nbcnews.to/2N9xoDU 

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At the same time, the White House has already frozen out Democratic members of the “Gang of Eight” by not informing them of the attack in advance, as is normal practice. And Trump has sent signals that perhaps he doesn’t intend to be terribly forthcoming with the Democrats in the group, retweeting a claim from conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza that sharing such information with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) would be akin to sharing it with the Iranians.

Looming over all of it are the circumstances in which the strike was launched. Trump’s advisers reportedly delivered the president options to deal with an escalating situation with Iran, and killing Soleimani was the most extreme one. Such an option is generally used to push the president toward a more moderate course of action. Trump, though, chose the extreme one.

If the attacks were so imminent and the strike so necessary, why was that labeled the extreme option? Given that Trump’s unwieldy actions and declarations often force those around him to struggle to justify them after the fact, it’s not illogical to suspect a similar effort afoot here. That would sure explain the lack of transparency — even with Congress — and the conflicting signals.

Soleimani has indeed been estimated to have been behind the killing of hundreds of Americans, so the idea that he might be planning more such operations — especially at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and Iran — is certainly logical. That appears to be why the administration is emphasizing what he has already done. But this was sold as something that was imminent, and there are plenty of indications that the information as we understand it might not be overly specific. Milley’s comments certainly indicated as much, and Lee and Paul say that basically no new information has been shared with them to back up that claim.

It’s difficult to believe there isn’t more that could be shared here — at least with a limited group of lawmakers — that could calm fears about the United States using yet another pretext for military action in the Middle East, as it did in Iraq. But for now, the Trump administration is doing a great job of seeding doubts. In the hours ahead, a big question will be whether top administration officials confirm and expand upon his embassy claim.

U.S. conflict with Iran: What you need to read

Updated January 8, 2020

Here’s what you need to know to understand what this moment means in U.S.-Iran relations.

What happened: President Trump ordered a drone strike near the Baghdad airport, killing Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful military commander and leader of its special-operations forces abroad.

Who was Soleimani: As the leader of the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, Soleimani was key in supporting and coordinating with Iran’s allies across the region, especially in Iraq. Soleimani’s influence was imprinted on various Shiite militias that fought U.S. troops.

How we got here: Tensions had been escalating between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled out of an Obama-era nuclear deal, and they spiked shortly before the airstrike. The strikes that killed Soleimani were carried out after the death of a U.S. contractor in a rocket attack against a military base in Kirkuk, Iraq, that the United States blamed on Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia.

What happens next: Iran responded to Soleimani’s death by launching missile strikes at two bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq. No casualties were reported. In an address to the nation, Trump announced that new sanctions will be imposed on Tehran.

Pompeo’s Lying Shows President Donald Trump WH’s Bad Faith:

When asked about the whistleblower complaint on Sept. 22, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he didn’t know anything about the call. Yet reports yesterday showed Pompeo listened in on the July 25th call. Aired on 10/01/19.