As the Republican Party is struggling to defend him in a moment of nationwide strife, President Donald Trump decided Thursday night to fuel divisions within GOP rather than make nice.
He had already lashed out on Wednesday at his former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who sharply criticized Trump’s response to the ongoing George Floyd protests. But on Thursday night, Trump took at aim at sitting Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Murkowski had commended Mattis’s comments and said publicly that she is “struggling” with the decision of whether to support Trump in his re-election. She explained: “I feel like perhaps we’re getting to a point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally.”
The president did not appreciate this rebuke, mild as it may have been.
“Few people know where they’ll be in two years from now, but I do, in the Great State of Alaska (which I love) campaigning against Senator Lisa Murkowski. She voted against HealthCare, Justice Kavanaugh, and much else…” Trump said in a tweet. “Unrelated, I gave Alaska ANWR, major highways, and more. Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care, I’m endorsing. If you have a pulse, I’m with you!”
As far as intra-party feuds that cross the executive and legislative branches go, a president pledging to campaign against a sitting senator is the most extreme possible salvo. While Trump surely hopes it will prevent any of Murkowski’s colleagues from joining her in dissent, it’s unlikely to cure the unease at the root of her concerns.
And in Murkowski’s case, it’s an unusually weak threat. Murkowski famously lost her 2010 GOP primary race in Alaska, but she won her Senate election anyway with an impressive write-in campaign. She’s thus much less reliant on the Republican Party for political power than many others, which may explain why she felt free to express her doubts in the first place. Nevertheless, it’s doubtless true that she’d rather not have Trump campaigning against her when she’s up for re-election if she can help it.