Senator Lindsey Graham was extremely articulate about the role Donald Trump could play in the future of the Republican Party during a television interview that aired Sunday night.
“To me, Donald Trump is sort of a cross between Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan, and P.T. Barnum,” Graham told Axios on HBO. “He could make the Republican Party something that nobody else I know can make it. He can make it bigger. He can make it stronger. He can make it more diverse. And he also could destroy it.”
The only issue with the statement is that Graham pondered Trump’s position as if it were a future question that hasn’t been answered.
But it is becoming obvious to Graham’s Senate Republican colleagues that the question has been answered: Trump is destroying the party or at least completely remaking it in his own image. And, if that reconfiguration is not something Senate Republicans want to be a part of, they risk facing a serious primary challenge.
On Monday, a fifth Senate Republican colleague of Graham’s announced that he would not seek reelection. This time is it Missouri’s Roy Blunt, who at 71 years old, has had a long tenure on Capitol Hill and is still relatively young for the standards of the Senate. But, more importantly, he is also the fourth most powerful Republican in the body.
In a video statement, Blunt said simply that after winning 14 general elections it was time to call it quits in politics.
In so doing he joins other Senate Republicans who have announced they aren’t running in 2022, including Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, Ohio’s Rob Portman, North Carolina’s Richard Burr, Alabama’s Richard Shelby. (Iowa’s Chuck Grassley and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson — also up for reelection next year — have yet to announce a decision on whether they will run again.)
One cannot blame Democrats for being thrilled to see these popular incumbents heading for the door. While all but one of the departing senators come from a state that Donald Trump won twice, at least an open race gives Democrats a better chance of picking up a seat.
Given that the Senate is currently evenly split at 50 each, and that, historically, the party that has the White House loses seats during the midterm election, every small change heading into next year matters.
However, the bigger consequence of the 2022 midterms probably won’t be that the Democratic Party will gain seats, but that the Trump wing of the Republican Party will.
In the case of all five Senators, while they each voted with Trump nearly every single time, they were culturally not Trump Republicans. In Blunt’s case, former Missouri governor Eric Greitens was already talking about a primary challenge, arguing Blunt wasn’t pro-Trump enough.
Greitens has to be considered the front-runner to be next senator from the state, despite how, um, complicated his political background may be.
But it is not just Missouri. In Ohio, the leading Republican candidates for the Senate are definitely more pro-Trump than Portman. And while the field of candidates is still evolving in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, both senators leaving voted to convict Trump in February, something that probably no Republican replacement will say was a good idea. Alabama is also likely to get a more Trump-y replacement than Shelby, given who has won their last two Republican primaries for Senate in that state, most recently Senator Tommy Tuberville, who initially led the initial idea to not certify the results of the Electoral College.
Trump endorsed Tuberville in that primary. And now Trump will get to be a force in Missouri along with other states. It is possible this is good for Democrats since these Trump candidates will face a harder time winning a general election, but what is for sure is that the only real loser with these retirements is Mitch McConnell.