How many times has the press declared a “Republican civil war” since the Tea Party wave of 2010? It turns out we had no idea. Just as Donald Trump has underscored and amplified many of the existing gulfs in the GOP, he’s also taking the concept of intraparty civil war to a new high.
The Republican nominee has been perhaps comparatively quiet on Twitter the last few weeks, but Tuesday morning, he started breaking loose—a metaphor Trump himself used:
It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2016
Who knew that Trump had been shackled before? It certainly hadn’t shown in in much of his approach to the campaign, which has been freewheeling. It’s true that Trump had appeared to be taking a more subdued approach in the weeks leading up to the first presidential debate. Pundits speculated that Trump’s new campaign team of Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway had instilled some discipline. But since that meeting in Hempstead, New York, he’s been closer to the old Trump—tweeting at 3 a.m., improvising speeches on the stump.
The target of his new barrage is not Hillary Clinton, nor is it the press, nor is it a long-ago Miss Universe. Instead, it’s his own party—or perhaps more accurately, the leaders of the party whose nomination he accepted in July.
The proximate cause appears to have been House Speaker Paul Ryan’s announcement Monday that rather than do anything to help Trump win the White House, he would cease defending him, would not campaign with him, and would focus on trying to salvage Republican control of the House and Senate. That did not sit well with Trump, it seems:
Despite winning the second debate in a landslide (every poll), it is hard to do well when Paul Ryan and others give zero support!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2016
Our very weak and ineffective leader, Paul Ryan, had a bad conference call where his members went wild at his disloyalty.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2016
It is not, however, just Ryan who has criticized Trump. Dozens of Republicans—including a third of the Senate GOP caucus—have rescinded endorsements of Trump, called on him to withdraw from the race, or both. That’s not lost on Trump, who then turned to attack the party as a whole:
With the exception of cheating Bernie out of the nom the Dems have always proven to be far more loyal to each other than the Republicans!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2016
And then the coup de grace, in which Trump explicitly said that the GOP was worse than his Democratic opponent for president:
Disloyal R's are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary. They come at you from all sides. They don’t know how to win - I will teach them!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2016
According to the well-sourced Washington Post reporter Robert Costa, Trump is holed up at Trump Tower, watching cable news. One can imagine him getting ever more agitated at the flood of condemnations from Republicans. It has become an article of faith that Trump tends to tweet the most aggressive statements, from his Android phone, while tweets from other platforms represent staffers tweeting for him. As some reporters noticed, however, one of the two Ryan tweets came from an Android and the other from an iPhone. Are Trump’s aides ready to battle the GOP, too?