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If the GOP thought 2017 was bad, here's why 2018 is shaping up to be so much worse

The same challenges that plagued Republicans over the last 12 months will overrun them in the new year.
Going to be a long year, fellows.Alex Wong / Getty Images

With the new year — and with it a midterm election — approaching, it’s time for some political crystal ball gazing. Although the Republicans currently hold all the cards in Washington, the year hasn’t gone as smoothly as the leadership might have wished. And it’s unlikely to get easier. A few predictions for the Republican Party in 2018:

The same challenges that plagued the GOP in 2017 will overrun them in 2018.

The civil war within the Republican Party that paved the way for Roy Moore to dominate the latter half of 2017’s news headlines will finally burst into full public view.

The Robert Mueller-led investigation that Trump's lawyers foolishly predicted would close by the end of this year will in fact continue well into the new year.

President Donald Trump will begin 2018 the way we he began 2017, with a triumphant address to a joint session of Congress. He’ll bask in the glow of successfully passing “historic” tax reform. He will then spend the better part of the year attacking members of his own party and the party leadership.

A wave of retirements will sweep through the party as the increasing inevitability of a Democratic midterm wave sinks in.

Those who opt to fight for re-election will be confronted with the uncomfortable choice of staying tied to Trump and the Republican base or creating distance from him and incurring their wrath.

If these predictions sound dire, there’s good reason. 2017 was a year that saw the unthinkable happen all across America: White supremacists marched in Charlottesville; the worst mass shooting in history occurred at a music festival in Las Vegas; Alabama Republicans nominated an open racist for their Senate seat who turned out to be a sexual predator; and the president of the United States lead a seemingly unprecedented attack against the press and the First Amendment.

But importantly, the year's seismic events have not occurred in a vacuum, and 2018 has the potential to be even more transformational.

Retirements and resignations have already guaranteed that the landscape of Capitol Hill will be different in 2018 and by the end of the coming year, the entire composition of Congress could be upended.

The year's seismic events have not occurred in a vacuum, and 2018 has the potential to be even more transformational.

Democrats are poised to make significant, if not historic, gains in the midterm elections and could retake the majority in the House. But don't underestimate the potential for them to also take back the Senate. When 2017 began, who would have thought that the state of Alabama would elect a Democrat to the Senate. It would not surprise me if a state like Tennessee or Arizona does the same in November.

Meanwhile, the threat that the Mueller investigation poses to this presidency cannot be understated. If this past year has taught us anything, it's that Mueller has the ability to completely upend the news cycle — and potentially this administration — without any warning.

Moreover, as the investigation continues, so will the coordinated attacks against it from the White House and their allies at media outlets like Fox News. It almost seems inevitable that we'll reach a point where Trump will try and remove Mueller, setting up an extraordinary test of the limits of executive authority.

And as all of this chaos continues to captivate and confuse voters, the Republican Party will be caught in the middle. If the GOP spends 2018 the way they spent 2017 — cowering, silent, hiding and complicit — they will be forced to retreat to their base’s most extreme positions and rhetoric.

While it’s been said before, it’s worth saying again: This is a problem of the GOP’s own making.

While it’s been said before, it’s worth saying again: This is a problem of the GOP’s own making. The party’s silence enabled the worst instincts of Trump and elevated the status and influence of people like Steve Bannon. Most elected Republicans in America have stood on the sidelines as Trump, Bannon and Fox News hijacked the Republican Party and used it to inflame racial tensions, challenge free press and distort the truth.

With the 2018 elections bearing down on them, most Republicans may not be in the mood to challenge their new status quo and risk losing their jobs or incurring the wrath of their chief executive. It’s a gross gamble, but so far it’s paid off. Because while 2017 seems to have left many Republicans in office shaken, few seem to be feeling the consequences of their collective cowardice.

So is this grace period finally ending? It’s far too early to tell, of course, but I believe that 2018 will be the year voters hold the GOP accountable for their collective cowardice. The bottom line is that the path to November will be a difficult one for the party of Lincoln, paved with conflict and turmoil.

Kurt Bardella is a political commentator who recently left the Republican Party to join the Democratic Party. He is a former spokesperson for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Brian Bilbray (R-CA), Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Breitbart News.