Trump emerges as obstacle to GOP unity: The Note

Trump's doing double-duty as vote-motivator and massive distraction for the GOP.

May 17, 2021, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

There's plenty for Republicans to be excited about when it comes to the midterms -- from historical trends to House retirements and redistricting, plus a precarious Biden agenda that could swing the economy and world affairs in unanticipated directions.

Then there's former President Donald Trump. Congressional leaders have bought his involvement in 2021 and 2022 races -- at least for now -- at a steep price that figures to reveal itself slowly: Being all-in on his election lies will mean having to confront GOP divisions over and over.

The emerging agreement over a Jan. 6 commission will mean reliving the horrors of that day for the balance of the year. That matters for GOP House members trying to rewrite its facts as well as prominent Republicans -- starting with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy -- who will almost certainly have to testify about their interactions with the former president.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump boards Air Force One before departing Harlingen, Texas, Jan. 21, 2021.
President Donald Trump boards Air Force One before departing Harlingen, Texas, Jan. 21, 2021.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

As for those who'd prefer to look forward, the fact that Trump continues to unfurl outlandish allegations about the last election means having to explain away things that are and should be inexplicable.

Rep. Liz Cheney, now out of leadership but emboldened by her ouster, calls the situation "dangerous" for the Republican Party and for the United States on the global stage.

"We have to recognize what it means for the nation to have a former president who has not conceded and who continues to suggest that our electoral system cannot function, cannot do the will of the people," Cheney, R-Wyo., told "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl. "It's the same kinds of things that the Chinese Communist Party says about democracy: that it's a failed system, that America is a failed nation."

Some Trump-aligned Republicans have been relatively honest about their motivations in keeping the former president close. They fear that a Trump who breaks from the party would take a huge chunk of voters with him.

But this means owning a former president who lost and refuses to accept that fact. It leaves Republicans deeply divided, not on policy or an agenda, but over a person and his personality -- with Trump doing double-duty as a vote-motivator and a massive distraction for the GOP.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

As violence explodes in Israel and across the Gaza Strip, statements from Democratic lawmakers have revealed the "splintered" Democratic Party that President Joe Biden previously described.

The divisions have become apparent after Biden's comments on the continued airstrikes that have killed nearly 200, mostly Palestinians.

"Israel has a right to defend itself," Biden said Wednesday, echoing the longstanding American diplomatic stance on Israel, an important ally in the region.

PHOTO: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 13, 2021.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 13, 2021.
Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Progressives, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., are calling on the Biden administration to show support for the human rights of Palestinians.

"We can no longer be apologists for the right-wing Netanyahu government and its undemocratic and racist behavior," Sanders wrote in a New York Times opinion piece.

"We must recognize that Palestinian rights matter. Palestinian lives matter," he added.

Biden spoke with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Saturday. According to White House officials, Biden urged a ceasefire, but it remains to be seen when the violence will subside. The conflict is a foreign policy test for Biden, who has mainly focused on his domestic policy agenda since taking office.

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

As a broader, political reckoning unfolded among Republicans in Washington, a different angle of the debate over Trump's influence in his party echoed across one of the nation's most important early primary states.

On Saturday, South Carolina Republican Drew McKissick was reelected for a third term as the state's GOP chairman after being endorsed by Trump. Despite winning, McKissick grappled with an increasingly familiar test that is putting other members of his party on the defense: having to prove his backing of the former president against other Republican challengers.

PHOTO: Pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood, a candidate for chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, speaks to attendees of the Richland County GOP convention, April 30, 2021, in Columbia, S.C.
Pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood, a candidate for chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, speaks to attendees of the Richland County GOP convention, April 30, 2021, in Columbia, S.C.
Meg Kinnard/AP, FILE

Georgia attorney-turned-conspiracy theorist Lin Wood moved to the first southern primary state earlier this year and subsequently challenged McKissick for the chairmanship. On the campaign trail, Wood insisted he was the rightful heir to Trump's political legacy as an ardent proponent of the "Stop the Steal" conspiracy.

Wood attempted to depict McKissick -- who cancelled South Carolina's 2020 GOP primary to throw all support behind Trump -- as being an insufficient backer of the former president. In the aftermath, Wood's loss now puts into question whether staunch pro-Trump rhetoric alone is enough to solidify Republican candidates' political standing in future contests.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

Monday morning's episode features FiveThirtyEight senior science writer Maggie Koerth and ABC News' Anne Flaherty. They break down the mixed reactions to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new guidance around masks for vaccinated people. ABC News' Matt Gutman joins us from Israel, where strikes have killed dozens in Gaza. And Local 24 reporter Brad Broder brings us the latest on a damaged bridge snarling traffic in Tennessee and Arkansas. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • Stacey Abrams, the former minority leader in the Georgia state House, a prominent voting rights advocate and author of "While Justice Sleeps," appears on ABC's "GMA3 What You Need to Know."
  • Federal income taxes are due. Deadlines in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana were extended until June 15 because of the disaster declarations following the winter storms in February.
  • Biden arrives back at the White House from Wilmington, Delaware, at 9:15 a.m. At 9:50 he and Vice President Kamala Harris receive the president's daily brief in the Oval Office. Then, at 1 p.m., Biden delivers remarks on the COVID-19 response and vaccination program.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

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