“Will the Real G.O.P. Please Stand Up? A National Power Struggle Goes Local.”


 Zach Scherer, a 20-year-old car salesman and Republican activist in Pennsylvania’s Butler County, decided to run for a seat on the county commission this year — a move that ordinarily would mean seeking the endorsement of local Republican Party leaders.

In Butler County, this raised an unusual question: Which Republican Party?

Last spring, the officially recognized Butler County Republican Committee was divided by a right-wing grass-roots insurgency, then divided again by a power struggle among the insurgents. There have been a lawsuit, an intervention by the state Republican Party and a dispute over a booth at the local farm show.

Butler, a rural county in western Pennsylvania where Donald J. Trump won nearly twice as many votes as Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020, now has three organizations claiming to be the true tribune of local Republicans. All of them consider the others illegitimate.

“There is, in effect, no committee,” said Al Lindsay, a four-decade veteran of the local party, who was ousted as committee chairman last year.

The partisans in Pennsylvania agree about one thing, if not much else: Their fight is a microcosm of the national struggle for control over the Republican Party, one that began with Mr. Trump but has been inflamed by the party’s weak showing in the midterm elections….

The current rifts date most directly to Mr. Trump’s loss in 2020, when his relentless claims of a stolen election divided Republican leaders between those who took up Mr. Trump’s cause and those who wanted to move on.

In several closely contested states, state party leaders loudly supported his election claims, and backed the Republican candidates who earned Mr. Trump’s endorsements by doing the same. But many of those candidates were extreme or erratic politicians who would go on to lose in November, and their nominations have caused enduring divisions. ….

After watching videos of Mr. Bannon advocating the precinct strategy, he began recruiting local candidates. “I told them what we wanted to do,” he said, “which was take over the Republican Party.”

His group scouted potential candidates by identifying “super voters” — registered Republicans who had voted in two consecutive elections — and canvassing personal networks on Facebook and Telegram. Corey Check, a 20-year-old member of the Patriot group who ran for committeeman in his township, said he recruited one candidate for committeewoman after noticing a cardboard cutout of Mr. Trump in front of her house and knocking on the door.

Mr. Scherer’s Patriot group made common cause with Mr. Halle, a born-again evangelical pastor, who had recently clashed with Mr. Lindsay and other local committee leaders.

Both Mr. Halle and Mr. Lindsay agree that their disputes were less over ideology than what the party apparatus was best used for. Mr. Halle saw it as a vehicle for remaking a state party whose compromises on Covid quarantines, mail-in voting and responses to 2020 election fraud claims he considered unacceptable. Mr. Lindsay — who describes himself as strongly anti-abortion and favored investigating the 2020 election outcome in Butler County — saw it chiefly as a vehicle for electing Republicans.

“Our opponents were Democrats — or that’s what we thought,” Mr. Lindsay said. “These people were not interested in that. They were interested in attacking Republicans.”

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