Republican power is up for grabs in the post-Trump world. Here are the 16 GOP power centers that Joe Biden will have to contend with.
- Donald Trump will no longer be president on January 20, but don't expect him to disappear into the night. He will continue to be a dominant force in Republican politics that President-elect Joe Biden will have to tangle with.
- But Biden will also have to contend with other figures such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the nation's Republican governors.
- Here are the 16 Republican power centers the Democrat and his team will have to either work or fight with — or both — once they take office next year.
- Know someone else who should be on this list? Let reporters Tom LoBianco and Dave Levinthal know at [email protected] and [email protected]
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
President Donald Trump is about to leave the White House but don't expect him to vanish into the night. Trump, his family, and his close circle of advisors will continue to exert their influence over the Republican Party and can be expected to spend the next four years poking at President-elect Joe Biden.
There is also a much wider world of the GOP that will no longer answer singularly to Trump: they include Senate Republicans in Washington and QAnon activists spread across the country.
This presents significant opportunities — and obstacles — for the incoming Biden administration, which may have to contend with at least two years of divided government unless Democrats score upset victories in two Georgia runoffs that would help them control the Senate.
Here are the 16 most influential conservative power centers Biden could work with — or be forced to overcome — to enact his agenda. This list will be updated periodically.
President Donald Trump
The outgoing president — who is still refusing to concede — has made it clear he won't just disappear from the scene once he leaves office next year. Trump has been telling advisers he intends to run again in 2024.
The New York Times recently reported he is planning to start a fundraising outfit that would help keep his name in the news until then.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans
The Senate majority leader will be the most powerful elected Republican in Biden's Washington even if Democrats claim a majority in the upper chamber in January.
Some Democrats and Republicans are optimistic that Biden and the Kentucky Republican, who worked together in the Senate for more than three decades, might find a way to work together. But a better gauge may be McConnell's conduct during Barack Obama's presidency when he blocked Democratic priorities and nominations.
McConnell signaled a week after the 2020 election that he may take a more partisan stance when he praised victories by Senate Republicans in tight races but declined to congratulate Biden, saying Trump's legal challenges should play out.
Republicans are also watching McConnell's top deputies including Sens. John Thune of South Dakota and Roy Blunt of Missouri, to see if they will play ball with Biden and his team.
Supreme Court conservatives
There's little any president can do to influence the Supreme Court, outside of nominating like-minded justices, appointing a sharp solicitor general, or attempting — as many progressives demand — to pack the court with more judges.
While now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett has dominated Supreme Court headlines for the past two months, fellow Trump nominees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh will play a big part in the decisions of the conservative-dominated high court.
That's because both have occasionally split with the court's most reliably conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, such as when the court ruled 7-2 earlier this year that Trump's accountants and financial advisers must provide his tax and financial records if a New York grand jury requested them.
Gorsuch also split with Kavanaugh, Alito, and Thomas in writing the 6-3 majority opinion in Bostock vs. Clayton County, which affirmed that federal civil rights laws grant LGBTQ employees protection from workplace discrimination.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who was nominated by President George W. Bush, has established himself as the closest thing to a swing vote in the high court. He's joined the court's three remaining Democrats on several high-profile cases in recent years.
Republicans picked up some new seats and cut into Democrats' hold on power in the House, giving them more leverage heading into 2021.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, remains an ardent supporter of Trump and his style of politics. And other Trump allies such as Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Devin Nunes of California are expected to keep up their probing of Biden and his family — although it's not clear how successful they will be in the minority.
Another Republican with a quickly rising profile who could be a force for Democrats to reckon with is Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota. In 2018, Emmer grabbed control of the National Republican Congressional Committee following the GOP's midterm election losses. In November, he easily defended his House seat and helped Republicans nationwide significantly reduce Democrats' House majority.
The wild card in the House Republican Conference is third-ranking leader Liz Cheney, Wyoming's lone representative and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Mainstream Republicans have increasingly looked to Liz Cheney as a moderating force after her forceful denunciations of Trump's wild allegations of voter fraud leading up to the election.
The circle of Trump loyalists, including the president's personal lawyers Rudy Giuliani and David Bossie — who've been dispatched to challenge election results in battleground states —will continue to be influential beyond 2020.
And so will Trump's children and their significant others, including daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner, son Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle.
Giuliani may still be able to call impromptu wild press conferences in a landscaper's parking lot, but the extent of Team Trump's influence will depend a lot on whether other Republicans want them around anymore.
Fox News will likely continue to be the major force in Republican politics. But Trump's feuding with the network over its decision to call the race in Arizona for Biden tipped off what could be a serious fracture in the world of conservative media.
Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity are likely to still dominate ratings and maintain close ties with Trump. Carlson and Hannity distorted perceptions of the racial justice protests after George Floyd's killing and pushed unverified allegations against Biden's son, Hunter Biden.
Conservative media helped spread many false or exaggerated stories about Obama throughout his presidency, such as the "Fast and Furious" arms-trafficking scandal. It was a sneak preview of what Biden should expect.
Other extreme-right outlets, including One America News Network and NewsMax, which is run by Trump's friend Christopher Ruddy, will continue eating into Fox's conservative audience. And another competitor may jump in: Kushner has been considering building a Trump-themed news outlet.
The Republican National Committee
After winning the White House in 2016, Trump selected then-Michigan GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to run the Republican National Committee.
With Trump no longer in control of the White House next year, the selection of a new Republican Party chairperson will fall on the 168 committee members. But expect Trump to have some sway in that decision, and he may negotiate to keep McDaniel on or install another ally as he seeks to remain at the center of GOP politics.
Unlike the Democratic National Committee, which saw its power diminish in the last decade or so, the RNC remains a political juggernaut. Under former chairman Reince Priebus and later McDaniel, the RNC prioritized fundraising and collecting voter-targeting data, which proved useful in 2016 and 2020.
The 2024 White House contenders
Several Republicans already eyeing White House runs in 2024 will have to decide whether to side with Trump or Biden or find a comfortable place in between.
Trump's oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who has been mentioned as a likely candidate, demanded loyalty to his father from his would-be competitors shortly after the 2020 elections. He quickly got it from former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton.
Other likely contenders, including Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, have tweeted their support for Trump's unfounded claims of voter fraud in the 2020 elections.
Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota is another standout among Republicans considered to be harboring presidential ambitions. Her national profile has steadily risen this year — although at times for unflattering reasons.
Noem curtain-raised for Trump as he celebrated Independence Day at South Dakota's Mount Rushmore in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. She then scored a prime-time speaking slot during the Republican National Convention.
But she's also taken significant heat for her administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. South Dakota's pandemic-related hospitalizations and deaths have spiked in recent weeks. She'll almost certainly need to work closely with the Biden administration on efforts to get the pandemic under control.
While Noem said earlier this year that she isn't interested in running for president in 2024, she has at least two years to change her mind. And she'd hardly be the first politician of late to pull a White House bid 180 — remember Beto O'Rourke?
The GOP mega-donors
If the historically expensive 2020 election proved anything, it's that Republicans and Democrats are both capable of generating incredible amounts of political money with whatever fundraising tool is available to them.
Billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson along with his wife Miriam Adelson together ended the 2020 election as the top contributors among all political donors. They gave pro-Trump committees and other Republican groups more than $180 million, according to federal records. There's nothing suggesting Adelson will stop giving, although he is 87 years old.
Other Republican high-rollers such as Richard Uihlein, Timothy Mellon, and Charles Schwab also proved that Republicans have a deep bench of seven- and eight-figure donors, which will help prompt Democrats to immediately enter hyper-partisan fundraising mode ahead of 2022 and 2024 elections.
QAnon and the Tea Party
Almost as soon as Obama became president more than a decade ago, the Tea Party followed close behind, fueled by big spending from oil interests like the Koch brothers and egged on by conservative media talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
Their raucous town hall protests against Democrats helped more conservative Republicans win and dominate the House of Representatives for eight years. Expect the Tea Party wing of the GOP to remain a pain in the side of Democrats and a Biden presidency.
And now the Republican Party has embraced a new conspiracy-believing brand of politicians, QAnon believers. They include newly-elected Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene and Texas GOP Chairman Allen West.
Greene has spread racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-transgender assertions. She's supported QAnon, the bonkers and baseless conspiracy theory that a cabal of "deep state" pedophile Democratic Satanists are operating within the federal government.
West, the fiery former Florida congressman spent much of the past decade prowling the fringes of Republican politics; he ran a small-potatoes political nonprofit and published a book titled Guardian of the Republic.
But his stock is now soaring. First, West won the Texas Republican Party's chairmanship this summer. Then he helped obliterate Democrats' hopes of turning Texas blue in the 2020 elections.
The old GOP establishment
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was one of the first prominent Republicans to congratulate Biden for winning the 2020 presidential election. His older brother, former President George W. Bush, soon also saluted Biden.
The old "establishment" of the party — the blue-blooded country club Republicans often represented by the Bush family and the nation's most powerful business lobby, the US Chamber of Commerce — is greatly diminished after Trump's rise to power.
But the former GOP power brokers also placed some careful bets during the 2020 cycle. The chamber took heat from Trump and his allies for supporting more Democrats this cycle than it typically has in past elections.
Republicans who've been uncomfortable with Trump's influence in the party may try to steer it back closer to what it was. They might also be willing to work to some extent with a Biden administration.
Social conservatives have built an entire political movement around opposing abortion and other issues such as same-sex marriage. They won big by uniting with an unlikely ally in Trump, who relied on the religious right when selecting three Supreme Court justices, more than 200 lower court judges, and like-minded Cabinet officials.
The unstated head of this world is Vice President Mike Pence, for now at least. He brought social conservatives into the fold for Trump four years ago and helped them set aside their apprehension over supporting a thrice-married man who'd bragged about sexual assault and had supported abortion rights for decades.
Pence remains a likely top contender for the White House in 2024 if Trump doesn't run again.
Biden will need the cooperation of the nation's Republican governors as he tries to tackle the pandemic and fix the struggling economy. He could also find common ground with them on issues that Trump promised but never delivered on such as infrastructure funding.
Some Republican governors such as Maryland's Larry Hogan may be willing to work across party lines. Other Republicans like Govs. Doug Ducey of Arizona and Greg Abbott of Texas, who neither fully embraced Trumpism nor outrightly rejected Trump, could partner with Biden if they see it in their interest.
It may take a bit more work to get the cooperation of staunch Trump allies like Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Noem of South Dakota.
The high-browed conservatives who carried the banner of William F. Buckley Jr. for decades split from the GOP under Trump and formed the core of the Never Trump movement. As the intellectual chroniclers of anti-Trump conservatism, George Will, Bill Kristol, and S.E. Cupp have dreamed aloud for a future that looks like the good old days of a debt-busting, deficit-hawking GOP.
It's one that embodies Ronald Reagan's vision of the United States as a shining city upon a hill, a "city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity…"
Cupp rocketed to stardom during Obama's eight years in office as a conservative commentator but broke with the right over Trump. She now has her own CNN show, newspaper column, and nearly 450,000 Twitter followers.
Now that the never-Trump conservatives have got what they wanted — the end of Trump's presidency — they have to reposition themselves; either return to fighting Democrats and progressives or find a way to embrace Biden as a bridge-builder after a tumultuous four years.
Moderate Senate Republicans
Biden will take office with either a divided government or a slim Senate majority if Democrats prevail in two Georgia runoffs in January. Either way, the president-elect will need some Republicans in the upper chamber to work across party lines if he's to get anything done.
Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Susan Collins of Maine might be his best bet when a new Congress begins.
Romney, the GOP presidential nominee in 2012, has been a vocal critic of Trump and was among the first few Republicans to congratulate Biden on his victory. Romney has called for all Americans to "get behind the new president and wish him the very best."
Murkowski has also acknowledged Biden's election and promised to work with his administration. She's broken with her party and sided with Democrats on issues such as abortion rights, building a wall along the US-Mexico border, and GOP attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Collins has also established herself as a frequent swing vote in the Senate and has strayed from her party's position on several issues including abortion and LGBTQ rights. Her brand suffered during the Trump era. But she easily won reelection in 2020, and Democrats could find a willing partner in her on several policy priorities.
Wild Card: Ronald Reagan
No, the former president has not returned from the great beyond. It just seems that way. His legacy has hovered over and influenced modern GOP politics for three decades but has had to compete with the Trump brand of the Republican Party over the last four years.
Once Trump leaves the White House in January, many in the GOP might want him to take along his version of Republicanism.
A Reagan biopic is simmering. His son, Ron Reagan Jr., told CNN in October that "it would be terribly inappropriate, and I'm sure my father would have thought so, to practice the kind of nepotism we see now."
Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley predicts that "you'll see the Republican Party go back to saying, 'we're the party of Ronald Reagan' … reclaiming a rebranded Republican Party for 2021 as a conservative party of Ronald Reagan."
Maybe, maybe not. But don't be shocked if Biden himself appeals to present-day Republicans using Reagan's name, particularly on fiscal issues where he's traditionally been a moderate.
Pro-Biden super PAC Unite the Country in March released an ad praising Reagan's crisis management. And Hogan, the Maryland Republican governor, said he wrote in the term-limited dead president's name instead of voting for Trump for a second term.
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