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Shellshocked GOP ponders future with Trump

Shellshocked Republicans on Thursday said President TrumpDonald TrumpClinton, Bush, Obama reflect on peaceful transition of power on Biden's Inauguration Day Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Biden reverses Trump's freeze on .4 billion in funds MORE’s grip on the party is significantly weaker after he incited a mob to attack the Capitol, but some questioned whether their party would be free of his hold anytime soon.

The challenges to Trump are clearly mounting. There is chatter his Cabinet could invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him, an idea favored by at least one GOP lawmaker. Tensions between Trump and his long loyal vice president are clear, and there is evident anger in the Senate GOP with the president.

National Republicans interviewed by The Hill said Trump may have permanently alienated millions of center-right voters who were disgusted by Wednesday’s ugly scene.

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But they acknowledged that the president retains enormous political power at the moment, a dynamic that was on full display when a majority of House Republicans voted to throw out Arizona’s Electoral College results hours after their evacuation.

“Trump has less power now, but he could still probably win a primary today, so does he really have less power?” asked former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele.

“The horrors of yesterday showed that Donald Trump built a tomb for the Republican Party and that they would go along and seal themselves in it. So this idea that the party will be different because of yesterday’s activity — I don’t see any evidence for that. Trump still has his base. Where would they go? They’re still there. They don’t take cues from what any Republican in Washington is saying.”

Lawmakers, party elites and current and former officials lined up to publicly rebuke the president after the mob invasion of the Capitol — a development that was unthinkable only 24 hours earlier.

“I think people are going to say that the intimidation factor will last for a while, but the curtain has been pulled away on the Wizard of Oz, and everyone can see it now,” said John BoltonJohn BoltonPence, other GOP officials expected to skip Trump send-off NSA places former GOP political operative in top lawyer position after Pentagon chief's reported order After insurrection: The national security implications MORE, who served as Trump’s national security adviser for more than a year and worked in previous Republican administrations. “And it doesn’t mean the influence will drop to zero, but it means it will drop and it will continue to drop.”

“There's a lot of work to do, but there is no Trumpism because there’s no philosophy behind it,” Bolton added. “When he leaves at noon on the 20th of January, he loses his power. He may have influence, but sitting in the lounge at Mar-a-Lago is not the same as sitting in the Oval Office.”

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Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Upton becomes first member of Congress to vote to impeach two presidents The Hill's Morning Report - Trump impeached again; now what? MORE (Ill.), who has emerged as a leading GOP critic of Trump, publicly called for officials to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office on Thursday. Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine ChaoSchumer becomes new Senate majority leader FDA chief says he was 'disgusted' by Capitol riots, considered resigning McMaster: Trump running again would be 'terribly divisive' MORE, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Biden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear McConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism MORE (R-Ky.), resigned in protest after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol. Seven other administration officials have also stepped down.

Businesswoman Carly Fiorina, who ran against Trump in the 2016 primary, called on Republicans to “finally repudiate Donald Trump and excise him from the Republican Party.”

Even those who have been fervent supporters, such as Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSenate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official Overnight Defense: Biden inaugurated as 46th president | Norquist sworn in as acting Pentagon chief | Senate confirms Biden's Intel chief McConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism MORE (R-Ark.), expressed fury at the president over the violence and chaos that took place.

“Quit misleading the American people and repudiate mob violence,” Cotton said Thursday.

Current and former administration officials were embarrassed and shaken, saying privately that the president had in one afternoon justified what they characterize as four years of hysteria around his presidency.

“After four years of relative craziness that was always exaggerated ... he does something that is as close to indefensible as you can get two weeks before he goes,” said one former White House official.

Across the country Thursday, Republican strategists and operatives were trading stories about people they know who had reached out to say that they were either abandoning Trump or sticking with him.

Some pointed to the president’s fervent base of supporters outside of Washington to make the case that Trump’s influence would continue to dominate the party for years to come — as well as the House votes on the Electoral College.

The president reportedly received a warm reception Thursday morning when he briefly called into a Republican National Committee member’s meeting.

Some Republicans argued that people have short-term memories and that the transactional nature of politics would give Trump space to rebuild his image and throw his weight around either as a candidate in 2024 or as a kingmaker in GOP primaries.

A massive post-election fundraising haul has left Trump with a war chest large enough to back candidates of his choosing or to run for president again in 2024. 

One source close to the White House said Trump is planning to play a role in the 2022 midterms, and the president has already openly talked about targeting Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism McConnell keeps GOP guessing on Trump impeachment Yellen champions big spending at confirmation hearing MORE (R-S.D.), Ohio Gov. Mike DeWineMike DeWineRepublicans eye primaries in impeachment vote Shellshocked GOP ponders future with Trump Governors respond to violence at Capitol MORE (R) and Georgia Gov. Brian KempBrian KempGeorgia House to consider replacing Confederate statue with statue of John Lewis Republicans eye primaries in impeachment vote Trump's legacy is discord and division MORE (R).

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But the violence in Washington, one former Trump campaign official said, “caused him to lose even loyal supporters.”

“Trump is a lonely man today,” the person said.

One Republican operative said that the events drastically diminished Trump’s hold on the party, describing the current dynamic as an “emperor with no clothes” moment because GOP lawmakers are publicly pushing back on Trump at a time when he can’t even respond on social media in usual form. The person expected Republicans to be more willing to publicly push back against Trump going forward, especially if he urges primaries against sitting GOP officials. 

Still, the GOP operative acknowledged the potential for Trump to split the party and characterized it as “dangerous,” observing that even if Trump only keeps a grip on 20 percent of GOP voters, Republicans who break with Trump would lose general elections even if they make inroads with independents. 

Republicans say that Trump demonstrated his ability to drag down GOP candidates with the results in the recent Georgia runoffs. Republicans blamed Trump’s divisive election rhetoric in part for depressing GOP turnout, causing Republican Sens. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerDemocrats swear in three senators to gain majority Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader Justice Dept. closes insider trading case against Burr without charges MORE and David PerdueDavid PerdueDemocrats swear in three senators to gain majority Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader Warnock, Ossoff to be sworn into Senate Wednesday afternoon MORE to lose their races, costing Republicans the Senate majority. 

At the same time, Republicans undeniably benefit from the enthusiasm Trump generates, particularly in rural parts of the country where the GOP must maximize turnout to be competitive.

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Some strategists believe the GOP can survive on some blend of Trumpism and more traditional conservative values where certain candidates win on personality and brashly carrying the Trump mantle, while others win in difficult districts by differentiating themselves from the president and touting limited government.

Finding a viable path forward and avoiding a Trump-charged intraparty civil war has grown even more critical with Democrats controlling the House, Senate and White House for the next two years.

“People have succumbed to the fallacy of presentism — well this is the way it is now, meaning this is the way it’s going to be forever — that’s just not true,” Bolton said of the direction of the party. “I’m not saying it’s going to take place without a struggle. But events move on and there will be a Democratic president doing things on a policy basis that the vast majority of Republicans object to, and that battle’s got to be joined."