The prevailing wisdom going into Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary sees Donald Trump as triumphant. But don’t mistake him for a colossus leading a mighty band. This view ignores the opportunism behind many of the endorsements he is winning and the sharp split between Republicans who want to govern and those who don’t.

Though there is certainly polarization between our parties, the primary cause of the deep distemper in American politics is the polarization within the Republican Party. Trump’s apparent dominance distracts from what the behavior of elected GOP politicians in Washington teaches us day after day: The party is a mess.

That doesn’t stop the Trump-Is-All-Powerful Industry from predicting he’ll go from strength to strength. Its argument is straightforward: Even if former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley wins New Hampshire, which she could, the obstacles in her way are formidable. In the next major battleground, Haley’s home state of South Carolina, Trump has a big lead. Haley’s problems only got worse on Friday when Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) announced his support for Trump.

Trump’s victory in the Iowa caucuses created the feel of a party falling in behind him. Telling were endorsements from Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), two politicians the vindictive front-runner repeatedly mocked, humiliated and slandered. On Sunday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom Trump routinely referred to as “Ron DeSanctimonious,” dropped out of the race and endorsed his tormentor. So much for self-respect.

But even if the punditry proves right, the GOP is in no way cohesive or coherent. Just look at the Republican majority in the House, which can’t govern without Democratic help. Meanwhile, Senate and House Republicans are at odds on the most important foreign policy question of the moment: whether the United States will continue to stand up against Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.

In the House last week, Republicans were divided into almost perfect halves over whether to keep the federal government open until at least March: They voted 107-106 for a deal between House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). To get the supermajority he needed, Johnson required nearly unified Democratic support – 207 votes to 2.


In negotiations pairing help for Ukraine with enhanced border security, Democrats have given enormous ground on immigration, to the point at which Senate Republicans are reduced to begging their House comrades to accept a win.

Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), one of Trump’s most enthusiastic apologists, lectured his colleagues on reality: “To those who think that if President Trump wins, which I hope he does, that we can get a better deal – you won’t.”

If the Senate reaches a bipartisan deal and Johnson rejects it, he will be the reason Ukraine isn’t funded and the United States loses credibility around the world.

Even Trump’s big victory in Iowa belied the idea that Trump’s army would walk through fire for him. Many were plainly unwilling to ignore the bitter cold and icy roads on caucus night. Only about 110,000 of the roughly 750,000 registered Republicans in the state participated, down more than 40 percent from the 187,000 who joined the last competitive caucuses in 2016.

The divisions among those hardy voters were deep, pointing to President Biden’s opportunities to drive wedges into the GOP electorate. The entrance poll found that Trump drew just 37 percent among college graduates, compared with 67% among non-graduates. Caucus-goers split down the middle as to whether they considered themselves part of the MAGA movement (46%) or not (50%). Three-quarters of the non-MAGA voters opposed Trump.

And 31 percent said they would not consider Trump fit to be president if he were convicted of a crime – a significant number, considering the loyalty to the GOP of the small minority willing to brave the elements.


Sure, Democrats have their divisions, too. Party loyalists range from the center to the left, and some of their loud fights doomed parts of Biden’s program in the last Congress. But what’s remarkable is how much they did pass with narrow House and Senate margins – and, in the case of the infrastructure and technology investments, with bipartisan support.

The difference is that Democrats want to govern because they believe government has a chance to do good. This means even the party’s most left-wing members will compromise to take a step or two forward even when they want to take four.

Republicans, on the other hand, are riven between those willing to govern – even, occasionally, with Democrats – and those who will be satisfied only if Trump is president. They presume this would allow them to roll over the left, the liberals and the moderates alike.

Failing to see the GOP as a party torn asunder allows Trump to seem stronger than he is. He uses this perceived supremacy to cow Republicans who hold the quaint view that governing in a reasonable and (small-d) democratic way is the point of getting elected. Is it just wish-casting to think New Hampshire might seize the opportunity to send them the message that it’s their duty to fight back?

Comments are not available on this story.