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This week, Republican fantasies about Trump and the Democrats came crashing down

On Thursday, Congress once again passed a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open. As has become the standard fare, Republicans fumed at House leadership for not passing individual spending bills, just as they did the last two times the House passed a stopgap spending bill known as a continuing resolution.

Not too long ago, a handful of angry conservatives used a stopgap spending measure as an impetus to kick out then-speaker Kevin McCarthy. But some of those same conservatives demurred when asked whether this week’s developments would be enough to trigger a coup against Speaker Mike Johnson.

“The only people out here talking about that is you guys,” Congressman Bob Good of Virginia, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus and one of the eight Republicans who torpedoed Mr McCarthy, toldThe Independent after the vote on Thursday. Congressman Tim Burchett of Tennessee, who also voted to kick out Mr McCarthy, said that he was disappointed at the continuing resolution but admitted “people don't think like I do and that's the situation.”

“People don’t think like I do and that’s the situation” could encapsulate the predicament the entire Republican Party faces. For the last few months, we at Inside Washington have said Republicans — all the way down from the squirreliest congress critters to the wealthiest donors to candidates — are engaged in a collective kind of magical thinking. Such wishful thinking has allowed the GOP to behave like they’re living in a world they would prefer, rather than the world as it is.

This week finally shattered that. The House Freedom Caucus attempted to add staunch restrictions to immigration to the continuing resolution to keep the government open, knowing that such a measure would never pass the House, let alone a Democratic-controlled Senate. Their stunts so incensed Congressman Garret Graves, a Republican from Louisiana who negotiated the debt limit deal, that he told me last week that conservatives needed to “take the damn win.”

But taking the win would mean that conservatives could no longer label themselves as pure and everyone else, including House GOP leadership, as “corrupt” or “RINOs.” Still, their decision not to kick Mr Johnson out shows they know they can no longer pretend like doing so will fix anything. They now realise their blowing up the House last year prevented them from achieving conservative goals, even if they won’t directly admit it.

The same is true for the presidential primary. Ever since the 2020 election, Republicans have thought they could entertain Donald Trump’s fantasies that he had the election stolen from him without consequences. After January 6, most Republicans in the Senate thought if they acquitted Mr Trump, he would simply go away.

Other elected officials hoped they could muscle him out of the picture — or not-so-secretly hoped that he would crumble under the weight of his indictments and they would inherit his base. This might be why they essentially played defence to the former president during his legal battles rather than bludgeon him with his indictments.

They engaged in Potemkin presidential debates of little consequence while few people tuned in and billionaires bankrolled their super PACs, all because they did not want to believe Mr Trump still led the Republican Party.

The Iowa caucuses acted as the caffeine to wake them up from their slumber. Voters have definitively set the former president up on the glide path to a rematch with Joe Biden.

That leads us, of course, to the last bit of magical thinking. For the longest time, Republicans — particularly in the Senate — thought they could be cute by having a charade of negotiations with Democrats to get concessions on immigration in exchange for Ukraine funding. The hope was two-fold: the right-wingers could “own the libs” by making them give a future President Trump sweeping immigration authority. Meanwhile, more establishment Republicans who support Ukraine believed they could convince their right-wing counterparts to support funding if they got immigration restrictions.

Mr Trump took a wrecking ball to that idea when he all but came out against the Senate’s Ukraine-immigration deal.

Now, Republicans have to wake up to certain realities. Mr Trump will inevitably be the Republican nominee, meaning he will actively loom over any congressional negotiations about spending, support for Ukraine or immigration. Far from him being a help to them on the campaign trail, he’s proven to be a drag in the last three elections. And there is little they can do about the circumstances when they are captive to Mr Trump and his voters — especially while they still have to deal with Democrats in the White House and Senate day-to-day.