Trump Allies Lash Out, Foreshadowing Fight for GOP’s Future

Donald Trump’s allies lashed out at the Republican senators who voted to convict him in the impeachment trial touched off by last month’s Capitol insurrection, showing the challenge the party would face in breaking with the former president after his acquittal.

State parties in Louisiana and North Carolina moved within hours of the trial’s conclusion to censure Republican senators who voted to convict Trump on Saturday, a sign of his following among the GOP’s rank and file. Senator Lindsey Graham said Sunday that “the Trump movement is alive and well” as he reveled in the former president’s dominance of the party after the acquittal.

The North Carolina Republican Party’s central committee will meet at 8 p.m. to discuss Senator Richard Burr’s support for impeachment, spokesperson Tim Wigginton said on Monday. State party Chairman Michael Whatley said Saturday that the retiring Republican’s vote “to convict in a trial that he declared unconstitutional is shocking and disappointing.”

Trump Allies Lash Out, Foreshadowing Fight for GOP’s Future

The rebukes underscore the former president’s role as a force for Republicans, even as it’s still not clear how active he plans to be in shaping the GOP in the next election cycle and beyond.

Trump has suggested he might run for president again in 2024. Even if he doesn’t make another bid for the White House, and even without his social media dominance, the former president remains an asset to candidates he backs, potentially helping to turn out GOP voters on behalf of loyalists.

He also may be a threat to his Republican opponents, including some of the seven GOP senators who voted to convict the former president on Saturday, and the 10 House members who voted for his impeachment in January.

Trump Allies Lash Out, Foreshadowing Fight for GOP’s Future

Looking for Revenge

Trump is said to be eager to exact revenge on those who crossed him. And conservative Republicans are already lining up to challenge Trump’s Republican foes in primaries.

In Wyoming, state senator Anthony Bouchard has announced a bid to unseat Representative Liz Cheney, the third-ranked Republican in the House, who voted to impeach Trump. In a fund-raising pitch, Bouchard suggested voters return the favor. Cheney has already been censured by her state party.

Another of the 10 Republicans, Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington State, drew the wrath of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene over the weekend. The controversial first-term lawmaker from Georgia, who has touted her ties with Trump, called Herrera Beutler a “tool” for Democrats, and warned that “the Trump loyal 75 million are watching.”

Some in Trump’s circle are already seeking to leverage the president’s popularity with their own campaigns for office, including former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who’s running to be governor of Arkansas. Graham predicted the president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, may seek election to fill Burr’s seat in the Senate when he retires in 2022.

Trump Allies Lash Out, Foreshadowing Fight for GOP’s Future

‘Excited About 2022’

“She represents the future of the Republican Party,” Graham said of Lara Trump on “Fox News Sunday.”

The South Carolina senator said he spoke with Trump after the verdict and will travel to Florida soon for a meeting, mirroring House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s pilgrimage to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach last month.

“He’s ready to move on and rebuild the Republican Party. He’s excited about 2022 and I’m going to go down to talk with him next week, play a little golf in Florida,” Graham said.

It would be a dangerous political mistake to sideline him, Graham said. “The most potent force in the Republican Party is President Trump,” he said. “We need Trump-plus.”

While some Republicans cling fiercely to the former president, the conclusion of the impeachment trial has thrust into the open a conflict between the party’s populist and establishment wings.

“We are going to have a real battle for the soul of the Republican Party over the next couple of years,” said Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who added on CNN that he would have voted in favor of Trump’s conviction.

Balancing Act

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell attempted to straddled the tension Saturday with a vote to acquit Trump followed minutes later by a speech excoriating the former president as “practically and morally responsible” for the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. Graham said McConnell had hurt the party by doing so.

Trump Allies Lash Out, Foreshadowing Fight for GOP’s Future

Republican senators Lisa Murkowski and Bill Cassidy defended their votes against Trump as doing their duty under their oaths to uphold the Constitution. They faulted Trump for insisting the election had been stolen for months and then failing to intervene even as protesters stormed the Capitol, interrupting the certification of Electoral College votes.

While 68% of Americans don’t want Trump to remain a major political figure, 57% of Republican or Republican-leaning voters do, according to Pew poll taken in the aftermath of the attack.

Hogan, who’s twice won office as a Republican in a heavily Democrat state, sought to seize the moment and purge the party of Trump’s influence.

“There was a hostile takeover of the Republican party,” he said on NBC. “We’ve got to move on from the cult of Donald Trump and return to the basic principles that the party has always stood for.”

Cassidy also sought to minimize Trump’s future grip on the party. “His force wanes,” Cassidy said on ABC’s “This Week.” “The Republican Party is more than just one person.”

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