When former President Donald Trump spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday, he singled out each of the 17 congressional Republicans who voted either to impeach or to condemn him for his conduct that led to the murderous riot on the Capitol on January 6.
The fact that Trump is targeting his fellow Republicans is nothing new. In fact, it was a defining feature of his external candidacy for the GOP nomination in 2016. But now Trump is the ultimate insider of the party – especially after reshaping the popular GOP apparatus, locally and state. , as his look.
As Trump seeks to remain the most influential voice in GOP politics as we approach midterm next year, potentially launching another presidential bid in 2024, it is these state and local leaders who work to help maintain his position in the party by targeting detractors and anyone else. seeking to move the GOP in a different direction.
Most notably, these state and local parties launched a barrage of censorship or other forms of condemnation shortly after a violent pro-Trump mob – inspired by the former president’s lie about a stolen election and encouraged it. that day by Trump himself – stormed the Capitol. the intention to disrupt Congress by formalizing the victory of President Joe Biden. Much effort was directed at the small number of Republicans who voted in favor of impeachment or conviction after House Democrats swiftly rallied to impeach Trump on charges of “incitement to insurgency.”
In Louisiana, the GOP state censored one of its U.S. senators, Bill Cassidy, moments after voting to condemn Trump. The North Carolina State GOP adopted a similar measure targeting Senator Richard Burr a few days later.
In Illinois, Larry Smith, chairman of the LaSalle County Republican Party and leader in the effort to censor Representative Adam Kinzinger after he voted to impeach Trump, told NBC News that local GOP leaders in his state are “overwhelmingly still pro-Trump,” and that critics are “a splinter group by comparison.”
“I think they’re incredibly naive or completely misread the tea leaves,” he said of Republicans who believe they can leave Trump behind.
He pointed to Kinzinger’s comments in The Atlantic in which lawmakers expressed hope that the core segment of the GOP ready to overtake Trump could reach 35 or 45 percent by the midterm election.
It’s “just dazzling that they think it’s going to erode, because I don’t see it at all,” he said.
Not all convictions were the direct result of an impeachment vote. In Arizona, the state government censored Governor Doug Ducey for certifying Biden’s victory there last fall. And in Kentucky, a number of local GOP presidents have censured or berated Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for blaming Trump for inciting the deadly riot – although he voted for it. acquit.
Jeff Timmer, a former Michigan GOP chairman who backed Biden last fall, said that instead of representing the traditional GOP, the group of 17 Republicans “are the extremists of the party.”
“It’s the Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Matt Gaetzes and Jim Jordans and these local party and state party organizations that censor people who opposed the insurgency, defended the Constitution and the rule of law – they are mainstream, ”he said. “And this talk about a serious division within the Republican Party, it’s just not real.”
The resolutions served as a warning to those in the party who would rather chart a new course after Trump’s defeat last fall – the vast majority of the party’s base has no interest. As a result, such an internal civil war-type calculation seems, for the moment, more and more improbable.
For example, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who quarreled with Trump as the siege unfolded, said Trump shared some of the blame for the riot. Weeks later, the Californian Republican visited Trump at his estate in Mar-a-Lago in an attempt to patch things up. As for McConnell, who eviscerated Trump after the riot, he told Fox News last week that he would support Trump if he were the 2024 GOP presidential candidate.
“I don’t know about the unit. I would say it’s more of a forced unit,” Don Thrasher, president of the Kentucky Nelson County GOP and leader of the effort to convict McConnell, told NBC News, adding that if the people Trump named in his CPAC speech don’t come out and support him, “I think they’ll probably be removed at some point.”
This effort to quell critics is by no means encompassing everything within the GOP. In Kentucky, an initial effort by Nelson and other county presidents to pass a resolution insisting that McConnell stand with Trump was rejected by the state party. And in Utah, the state GOP released a lengthy statement saying there’s room for both ways. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee’s position on impeachment within the party. Most of the primary breeds are still a long way off as well.
Wisconsin GOP President Andrew Hitt previously told NBC News that while a candidate’s proximity to Trump would likely be a key factor among constituencies, “it doesn’t appear to be a predominant question across the board. electorate or the entire Republican electorate “.
Already, Trump has endorsed a main challenge to one of the Republicans who voted to impeach him, backing former White House staff Max Miller against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio.
“Get rid of them all,” Trump said Sunday of those Republicans who condemned his conduct. “The only divide is between a handful of Washington, DC, establishment political hacks, and everyone across the country.”
Among Republicans, the idea that there is little division is confirmed by a recent poll. A Suffolk University / USA Today poll late last month showed more than 3 in 4 Trump voters would support him in 2024 if he ran.
With most of the GOP voters endorsing Trump, grassroots leaders are looking to tamp down with the idea that the party is turning into a cult of personality. They say Republicans support Trump not necessarily out of love for him, but because he is seen as the only viable GOP leader willing to carry out the economic and cultural agenda he has promoted.
In Nebraska, where the state party recently passed a resolution calling on Senator Ben Sasse to make “an immediate readjustment” after his vote to condemn Trump, a Republican told NBC News: “If you had a ship that carries the Trump’s agenda, it was not. so easily branded as a rude man on Twitter or a crass, meaningless reality TV star, we could have taken another route. “
“It’s such a struggle to hear that we’re a cult personality about Trump,” the Nebraska Republican said. “I can’t stand Trump in many cases, but I love what he has been able to do on the issues that matter to us.”
There are other signs that Trump’s policies and the issues he has promoted may be more popular than the former president himself. CPAC’s poll of more than 1,000 participants found 95% support for continuing to push Trump’s agenda forward, but fewer – 68% – who said they wanted to see Trump run again. Some of those who want the party to go beyond Trump, like Gonzalez and Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, have called on the GOP to embrace aspects of the president’s platform while closing the door on extremists.
Cheney, who is the Speaker of the House Republican Conference, making her the highest Republican to vote for impeachment or conviction, said at a Reagan Institute event last week that the GOP must “make it clear that we are not the party of white supremacy.”
Basically, Republicans say Trump’s embrace is all about simple math. He garnered the most votes of any Republican presidential candidate in history, though he also supercharged his opposition. And although he is the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose the House, Senate, and White House in his first term, these leaders point to GOP control over more state institutions and his winning a number of House seats in 2020 as proof that Trumpism is the way to go.
Those who ask if the party will leave Trump “want the party to go in a different direction or don’t understand arithmetic,” said Drew McKissick, the South Carolina GOP chairman who Trump approved last week for another mandate. “It’s a matter of growth.”
Yet, as Timmer noted, one of the results of Trump’s strong hold on the party is that many who oppose him are simply leaving him behind.
“The party will become even more Trumpy after Trump leaves the White House than it was during his tenure,” he said. “Because so many people who have identified with the Fred Uptons or the Mitt Romneys say, ‘Enough. If you can’t stand up and say that the insurgency and murderous election overthrow was a bridge too far, there is no hope. “