Major votes in the past two weeks show House Republicans coming apart at the seams

It took two tries, but we finally saw something out of Congress that would have been unthinkable just over a week ago: Republican House members actually voted “yes” on impeaching Donald Trump—not a lot of them, but enough to squeak into the double digits. That’s not only a change from the first impeachment a year ago when the GOP voted in lockstep against it, but a serious departure from the Beltway media’s conventional wisdom, which relies on depictions of a House Republican caucus that’s well-disciplined and a Democratic bloc that’s in a constant state of disarray.

It wasn’t just the impeachment vote that delivered a serious hit to that stale CW, though. Three other votes taken in the past few weeks also show a Republican coalition that’s fracturing along multiple axes, and in rather unpredictable ways. It’s not entirely unusual to see, for instance, a few dozen Republicans peel off from the rest of the party from one end of the ideological spectrum or the other—either the most pragmatic or most extreme members—on a particular vote. But this quartet of recent votes have seen Republicans splitting off in every possible direction, and those splits haven’t always been on a predictable left/right scale.

That suggests two things: first, that there’s a significant leadership vacuum in the Republican caucus right now, and second, that there’s also a growing divide between authoritarians and non-authoritarians split within the party that doesn’t quite map onto traditional policy preferences. Both have serious implications for the GOP’s future.

The four roll calls where we’re investigating Republican voting patterns are the votes to:

This time, Trump was impeached by a vote of 232-197, with all 222 Democrats voting for it and Republicans voting against it 197-10. The Electoral College objection, meanwhile, failed 282-138, with Democrats again unanimously opposed but Republicans in favor 138-64. (Republicans also tried to repudiate Arizona’s electoral votes, but that garnered slightly less support, and in any case, no one voted to reject Arizona’s votes but accept Pennsylvania’s, making the latter a more meaningful vote to analyze.)

The second pair of votes both required two-thirds majorities. The $2,000 stimulus checks, which had to hit that threshold because the legislation was brought up on an expedited basis, narrowly exceeded the mark, 275-134. Forty-four Republicans voted for it but 130 voted against the plan, despite Trump’s support for the measure, while Democrats were 231-2 in support.

The override of Trump’s NDAA veto passed by a considerably wider 322-87 margin, with 109 Republicans actually opposing Trump and just 66 sticking with him. This was the only vote of the four that saw a sizable numbers of Democrats go against their party, with 20 opposing the override while 212 backed it. However, as we’ll discuss at the end of this piece, these dissenters were mostly from the party’s left-most flank and were voting to oppose the military’s enormous budget rather than to support Trump in any way.

Each of these roll calls alone shows a serious split within GOP ranks: Even on impeachment, the 10 Republicans who voted against Trump set a record for the largest number of representatives impeaching their own party’s president. But the divide goes much deeper.

With a “yes” or “no” vote possible on each of these votes, that gives us 16 potential buckets for members to fall into. However, not all of the House GOP’s 211 current members show up below because we’re only including representatives who participated in all four votes. That winds up excluding 64 Republicans, including all freshmen (since two of the votes took place at the tail end of the last Congress), as well as anyone who skipped one more or of these votes for whatever reason.

Still, we can analyze a meaningful proportion of the GOP caucus, about 70% of it in total. And underscoring the extent of the fracture we’re seeing, Republicans occupy no fewer than 11 of these 16 possible buckets, ranging from as few as one member up to 43. Democrats, by contrast, wound up in just three buckets, and almost all—196 of the 217 who cast votes on all four measures—were in just a single grouping. You can see these buckets, which we’ll examine one by one, visualized just below:

Of course, it’s possible to find any arbitrary set of votes that show various divides for either party, but this set is anything but arbitrary. Rather, these were four of the most consequential votes the House has been called upon to take since Trump’s first impeachment, and they all took place in a span of just 16 days, making them worthy of collective study.

To that end, we’ll start with the members who voted the way that Trump would have wanted each time: “no” on impeachment, “yes” on challenging the Pennsylvania votes, “yes” on bigger stimulus checks, and “no” on overriding Trump’s veto of the military budget. In other words, this was—in theory—the group of most maximally MAGA members:

Impeachment: no; Pennsylvania: yes; $2,000 checks: yes; Override: no (8 members)

Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25); Greg Pence (IN-06); Clay Higgins (LA-03); Jason Smith (MO-08); Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02); Lee Zeldin (NY-01); Chris Jacobs (NY-27); Michael Burgess (TX-26)

Interestingly, and encouragingly, there were very few members who took this approach. It’s possible that shows that Trump, whose outreach to Congress has been both ham-fisted yet perfunctory, and who has little connection to traditional Republican avenues of power, no longer has quite so much influence on the House. On the other hand, it might also show that while Trump’s odd mishmash of preferred issues and grievances has had a lot of resonance with low-information voters who haven’t felt at home in either party, it was never really a good fit for the Republican Party, which is not exactly known for either handing out money to people who need help or for telling the military to take a hike.

And while this group should superficially represent the most Trumpy brigade possible, it actually doesn’t include many members from the nuttiest ranks of the GOP—perhaps just Louisiana’s Clay Higgins (best known for his apocalyptic tweeting), and Indiana’s Greg Pence, who, in case it wasn’t clear from the last name, also happens to be the vice president’s brother and may share his sibling’s toadying tendencies.

Instead, this bucket contains a couple of GOP members with the most moderate (at least on a left-right axis) voting records but who are uniquely cross-pressured: Mario Diaz-Balart, who represents a mostly Cuban-American district in the Miami area; and Jeff Van Drew, who was elected as a Democrat but infamously switched parties during the previous impeachment.

Impeachment: no; Pennsylvania: yes; $2,000 checks: yes; Override: yes (13 members)

Robert Aderholt (AL-04); Rick Crawford (AR-01); Mike Garcia (CA-25); Ken Calvert (CA-42); John Rutherford (FL-04); Jackie Walorski (IN-02); Jim Baird (IN-04); Hal Rogers (KY-05); Jack Bergman (MI-01); Elise Stefanik (NY-21); Bill Johnson (OH-06); Frank Lucas (OK-03); Tom Cole (OK-04)

The next bucket features Trumpy Republicans who are anti-democracy and pro-stimulus but just couldn’t say no to the military. One unusual name in this bucket is Mike Garcia, who holds the bluest district in the nation that’s represented by a Republican (California’s 25th, where he narrowly won reelection in November after more comfortably winning a special election last spring) and is someone you’d therefore expect to take a more moderate path, perhaps up to and including impeachment. Apparently, though, he thinks a base-first strategy is his best path to squeaking out another victory in 2022, despite his district’s leftward trend. Another is Elise Stefanik, until recently an establishmentarian but who in the last year has seemingly gone all-in on using Trumpism as a means of climbing the leadership ladder.

Impeachment: no; Pennsylvania: yes; $2,000 checks: no; Override: yes (32 members)

Mike Rogers (AL-03); Mo Brooks (MO-05); Doug Lamborn (CO-05); Buddy Carter (GA-01); Mike Bost (IL-12); Jim Banks (IN-03); Mike Johnson (LA-04); Garret Graves (LA-06); Tim Walberg (MI-07); Blaine Leutkemeyer (MO-03); Vicki Hartzler (MO-04); Sam Graves (MO-06); Trent Kelly (MS-01); Michael Guest (MS-03); Steven Palazzo (MS-04); Virginia Foxx (NC-05); David Rouzer (NC-07); Richard Hudson (NC-08); Steve Chabot (OH-01); Bob Gibbs (OH-07); Dan Meuser (PA-09); Fred Keller (PA-12); Glenn Thompson (PA-15); Mike Kelly (PA-16); Joe Wilson (SC-02); William Timmons (SC-04); Chuck Fleischmann (TN-03); Mark Green (TN-07); David Kustoff (TN-08); Roger Williams (TX-25); Chris Stewart (UT-02); Rob Wittman (VA-01)

The next batch, which voted against impeachment and stimulus checks but supported challenging the electors and the military budget, is made up of more standard-issue, “normie” members of the Republican Party’s right flank, including a number (like Vicky Hartzler and Tim Walberg) who are known more for old-school social conservatism. Interestingly, though, one name here is Mo Brooks, who has been one of the loudest voices inciting violence and is a main target of censure efforts. Despite his links to Trumpism, he couldn’t get on board with COVID relief and couldn’t oppose the armed forces either. The latter is not a coincidence, since his Huntsville-area district is heavily dependent on military and aerospace technology, centered around the Redstone Arsenal.

Impeachment: no; Pennsylvania: yes; $2,000 checks: no; Override: no (43 members)

Gary Palmer (AL-06); Paul Gosar (AZ-04); Andy Biggs (AZ-05); David Schweikert (AZ-06); Debbie Lesko (AZ-08); Doug LaMalfa (CA-01); Devin Nunes (CA-22); Matt Gaetz (FL-01); Bill Posey (FL-08); Greg Steube (FL-17); Brian Mast (FL-18); Barry Loudermilk (GA-11); Rick Allen (GA-12); Russ Fulcher (ID-01); Ron Estes (KS-04); Steve Scalise (LA-01); Billy Long (MO-07); Dan Bishop (NC-09); Ted Budd (NC-13); Adrian Smith (NE-03); Jim Jordan (OH-04); Warren Davidson (OH-08); Kevin Hern (OK-01); Scott Perry (PA-04); Lloyd Smucker (PA-11); John Joyce (PA-13); Guy Reschenthaler (PA-14); Jeff Duncan (SC-03); Ralph Norman (SC-05); Tim Burchett (TN-02); Scott DesJarlais (TN-04); John Rose (TN-06); Louie Gohmert (TX-01); Lance Gooden (TX-05); Randy Weber (TX-14); Jodey Arrington (TX-19); Michael Cloud (TX-27); Brian Babin (TX-36); Ben Cline (VA-06); Morgan Griffith (VA-09); Tom Tiffany (WI-07); Alex Mooney (WV-02); Carol Miller (WV-03) 

The biggest bucket is also probably the most hardcore of the bunch: They’ll follow Trump not just on challenging the election but also on stiff-arming the military, but, true to form, they just can’t get on board with sending people money. Not coincidentally, most of the members of the Freedom Caucus (the most hard-right of the House GOP’s ideological blocs) are found here, and you’ll probably recognize the names of some of the loudest insurrectionists, like Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs, Matt Gaetz, and Louie Gohmert. One odd tidbit is that while this is a disproportionately Southern group, all four of Arizona’s remaining Republican representatives are here too.

Impeachment: no; Pennsylvania: no; $2,000 checks: yes; Override: yes (6 members)

Rodney Davis (IL-13); Pete Stauber (MN-08); Ann Wagner (MO-02); Chris Smith (NJ-04); Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01); Michael McCaul (TX-10)

Here we have Republicans from the somewhat more moderate end of the caucus who voted no on challenging the electors, and yes on stimulus checks and the military budget, but couldn’t take the final step of voting for impeachment.

One rather unexpected name is Texas’s Michael McCaul: He hasn’t had a particularly moderate record in the past but has faced increasingly difficult elections in his suburban district the last few times and may be trying to adapt. In a statement he released during the impeachment vote, he accurately prophesied, “I truly fear there may be more facts that come to light in the future that will put me on the wrong side of this debate,” but for some reason couldn’t take that final step.

One other surprise, from the opposite direction, was Brian Fitzpatrick, who represents a swingy suburban district outside of Philadelphia. Based on his overall record, Fitzpatrick probably was the likeliest Republican to vote for impeachment who ultimately didn’t. (He instead led the push for a “censure” alternative, which was a non-starter with Democrats.)

Impeachment: no; Pennsylvania: no; $2,000 checks: yes; Override: no (3 members)

James Comer (KY-01); Tom Reed (NY-23); David McKinley (WV-01)

What seems like the least coherent series of votes, at least for Republican members—against impeachment, against challenging the election, and for bigger stimulus, but also against the military budget—is also a bucket with only a few members in it. There’s also not much consistency here in terms of its members, ranging from northeastern pragmatist Tom Reed to very conservative southerner James Comer.

Impeachment: no; Pennsylvania: no; $2,000 checks: no; Override: yes (27 members)

French Hill (AR-02); Steve Womack (AR-03); Michael Waltz (FL-06); Vern Buchanan (FL-16); Drew Ferguson (GA-03); Austin Scott (GA-08); Mike Simpson (ID-02); Darin LaHood (IL-18); Larry Bucshon (IN-08); Brett Guthrie (KY-02); Bill Huizenga (MI-02); John Moolenaar (MI-04); Patrick McHenry (NC-10); Kelly Armstrong (ND-AL); Don Bacon (NE-02); Mark Amodei (NV-02); Brad Wenstrup (OH-02); Bob Latta (OH-05); Mike Turner (OH-10); Troy Balderson (OH-12); Steve Stivers (OH-15); Dusty Johnson (SD-AL); Dan Crenshaw (TX-02); Van Taylor (TX-03); John Curtis (UT-02); Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05); Mike Gallagher (WI-08);

This bucket features much of what’s left of the orthodox Republican establishment—not “centrist,” of course, but located around the ideological midpoint of the GOP caucus, which is still very conservative. This group is naturally anti-stimulus and pro-military, but while its members are not willing to play too-obvious games with democracy, they’re content to let Trump do much worse, which is why they opposed impeachment.

Impeachment: no; Pennsylvania: no; $2,000 checks: no; Override: no (7 members)

Bruce Westerman (AR-04); Tom McClintock (CA-04); Thomas Massie (KY-04); Tom Emmer (MN-06); Chip Roy (TX-21); Bryan Steil (WI-01); Glenn Grothman (WI-06)

These are the across-the-board “nays.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most libertarian-flavored members who remain (after Justin Amash’s departure; he voted against checks and the military budget, but was no longer in office for the Electoral College vote) are seen here, most notably Thomas Massie.

Impeachment: yes; Pennsylvania: yes; $2,000 checks: no; Override: no (1 member)

Tom Rice (SC-07)

The smallest bucket of all contains just Tom Rice, who represents a dark-red district in the Myrtle Beach area. While not a member of the Freedom Caucus, he does have a voting record that places him well to the right of the GOP’s midpoint. Were it not for his impeachment vote, he’d have wound up in the largest grouping, but instead, he’s all on his own. Rice’s vote was uncharacteristic enough that he might have simply pushed the wrong button during the roll call, but his subsequent statement acknowledged his surprising move: “I have backed this President through thick and thin for four years. I campaigned for him and voted for him twice. But, this utter failure is inexcusable.”

Impeachment: yes; Pennsylvania: no; $2,000 checks: yes; Override: yes (4 members)

Adam Kinzinger (IL-16); Fred Upton (MI-06); John Katko (NY-24); Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03)

This batch, which voted pro-impeachment, pro-democracy, pro-checks, and pro-military, includes the low-profile but extremely durable Northeasterner John Katko, as well as Adam Kinzinger, who has recently become one of the most vocal anti-Trump Republicans. While Katko is one of the few Republicans who represents a district that Joe Biden won, and Upton and Herrera Beutler are in competitive districts, Kinzinger certainly isn’t; his main risk would be in a Republican primary.

It’s also worth noting that almost all Democrats also fall in this bucket. This excludes the 20 who voted against the military budget, and also Kurt Schrader, the lone remaining Democrat to vote against the $2,000 checks.

Impeachment: yes; Pennsylvania: no; $2,000 checks: no; Override: yes (3 members)

Anthony Gonzalez (OH-16); Dan Newhouse (WA-04); Liz Cheney (WY-AL)

Finally, here are the few Republicans who voted for impeachment and against challenging the electors, but who otherwise stuck to conservative orthodoxy. The biggest name here might be Liz Cheney, who’s No. 3 in the House leadership hierarchy, but who has been recently very critical of Trump. She could also be a potential challenger to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy or Minority Whip Steve Scalise in the future, but given the outraged calls for her resignation from fellow Republicans following her vote, her motives are difficult to assess—unless she truly imagines the GOP will embrace an anti-Trump future.

The other two members of this trio are sophomore Anthony Gonzalez, a former NFL star who represents a suburban district in the Cleveland area and has tended toward the moderate end of the caucus, and Dan Newhouse, who represents a conservative area in eastern Washington but is potentially insulated from a challenge from the right thanks to the odd nature of Washington’s top-two primary system. (Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon also followed this pattern of votes.)

The recent McCarthy/Cheney tension, in fact, points to how the growing fractures in the Republican Party don’t entirely map onto the traditional left-to-right axis. Cheney, for instance, has a somewhat more conservative voting record than McCarthy, at least according to the widely-used DW-Nominate system of scoring votes.

Instead, it’s more a clash between Trump-style populist authoritarianism (to which McCarthy is merely an accessory) versus the more old-school Republican elite traditionalism that Cheney embodies. It would be weird to say that Cheney is “anti-authoritarian”; rather, what she’s objecting to is that Trumpism is the wrong kind of authoritarianism. Maybe a better way of describing it is that traditional Republican conservatism is more about a decentralized, slow-moving form of autocracy that’s spread around a variety of institutions (the military, the judiciary, big business) rather than consolidated in a cult of personality around one very erratic person.

It’s certainly possible that these divisions will recede, especially once Biden is inaugurated and Chuck Schumer is elevated to Senate majority leader—Republicans, lacking any sort of affirmative agenda, have always enjoyed a more harmonious life in the minority where they simply oppose everything that Democrats put forth. But if they persist, they could mean more turmoil ahead for the GOP and undermining the party’s chances of reclaiming the House in the coming midterm elections.

P.S. We’ll close out with a look at the 20 Democrats who dissented on the override of Trump’s veto of the military budget:

Jared Huffman (CA-02); Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11); Barbara Lee (CA-13); Ro Khanna (CA-17); Jimmy Gomez (CA-34); Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02); Chuy Garcia (IL-04); Jim McGovern (MA-02); Joe Kennedy (MA-04); Ayanna Pressley (MA-07); Rashida Tlaib (MI-13); Ilhan Omar (MN-05); Grace Meng (NY-06); Yvette Clarke (NY-09); Adriano Espaillat (NY-13); Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14); Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01); Earl Blumenauer (OR-03); Pramila Jayapal (WA-07); Mark Pocan (WI-02)

Unsurprisingly, this list correlates very much with Progressive Caucus membership, as well as many of the left-most Democratic members under the DW-Nominate system. This indicates the vote was not pro-Trump but rather against current levels of military spending, with the possible exception of the inscrutable Tulsi Gabbard, one of only two Democrats on this list whose term ended after this vote and therefore wasn’t present for the Jan. 6 challenges to the Electoral College or the second impeachment vote.

All of these Democrats of course backed $2,000 checks and impeachment, and opposed overturning the election results, a pattern followed by zero Republicans.