A billion dollar battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party is shaping up between Donald Trump and his loyalists, and reformers who are determined to wrest control of the GOP from the defeated and twice impeached president.
Trump, the Republican National Committee, and allied groups are sitting on an ever expanding war chest of more than $1 billion, according to some published reports, with about $207.5 million raised between between November 3 and November 23 to help fund Trump's failed court battle to overturn the election results.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg and at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Trump made it clear that he has no intention of going away, and his legion of political bootlickers are hanging with him. Some, like Sens. Josh Hawley (R-GA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) are trying to position themselves as heir-apparent if Trump does not seek his party's nomination in 2024.
“I stand before you today to declare that the incredible journey we began together four years ago is far from over,” said Trump. “We are gathered this afternoon to talk about the future — the future of our movement, the future of our party, and the future of our beloved country.”
Once again claiming that he won the election and that the election was "rigged," Trump said: "Actually, as you know they just lost the White House. Who knows, I may even decide to beat them for a third time."
David vs. Goliath
But despite Trump's claim that "the Republican Party is united," an effort to raise money to support GOP candidates who oppose Trump is underway, led by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump.
Kinzinger says the GOP needs to give up being the "party that's been for too long pedaling in fear" and must rally around a "competing alternative narrative."
"And fear does motivate," he said on CBS News' Face the Nation. "But after a while, fear can destroy a country, can destroy narratives, and it can destroy a democracy. And we have to quit peddling that."
"You know, to win a narrative in a party, you have to present a competing alternative narrative," Kinzinger said. "When you only hear from Donald Trump and when people walk around in fear of his tweets or his comments or they use his fear to peddle- win reelection, of course, he's going to motivate people."
That's the reason, Kinzinger said, that he launched a new political action committee, Country 1st PAC designed to challenge Trump's wing of the GOP and stand up against leaders still aligned with him.
"That's all about fighting for the narrative in the Republican Party for an optimistic, brighter future again, one we can be proud of, and one, where when we talk about things, we actually teach young people how to do politics in a way that we used to remember and appreciate," said Kinzinger.
In his launch video, Kinzinger says, “Republicans must say enough is enough. It’s time to unplug the outrage machine, reject the politics of personality, and cast aside the conspiracy theories and the rage.”
In addition to Country 1st, allies of Kinzinger are launching a super PAC to collect large sums to support Republicans willing to buck Trump. That PAC's founders, which include Kinzinger advisers, are also launching a nonprofit to "build a grass roots army," according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. Both organizations will be able to accept unlimited contributions, and nonprofit groups are not required to disclose their contributors' identities.
So, in the big money world of GOP finance, the battle between Trump, the RNC, and its allies against Kinzinger and his supporters could be a reprise of Goliath vs. David.
Mario Castillo, one of the Kinzinger group's advisors, said “Americans Keeping Country First has a clearly defined mission to provide air cover for the members of Congress who took votes of conscience to impeach or convict President Trump.”
Castillo said the super PAC has “received real interest” from GOP donors and expects to be well-financed for primary season, although those prospective donors were not identified.
According to The Washington Post, it is expected to back the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment, as well as Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who is up for reelection in 2022. The goal is to target donors who want to stay with the GOP but consider Trump noxious, said The Post.
All of this demonstrates the deep divisions that exist within the GOP. Today at CPAC, Trump targeted the 17 Republicans who voted to impeach or convict him for his role in the January 6 attack on Congress as it met in joint session to ratify the Electoral College vote.
"Get rid of them all," he said.
“The Republican Party is united,” Trump claimed. “The only division is between a handful of Washington, D.C., establishment political hacks, and everybody else all over the country.”
The weeks and months ahead will determine which of the GOP's political hacks survive and which ones fall by the wayside; whether they will be those who blindly continue to support Trump or those who have the courage to stand up against this former bully-in-chief.