The Memo: Chances recede of GOP breaking with Trump
If the Republican Party is to make a clean break with former President Trump, the upcoming Senate impeachment trial is a “now or never” moment.
“Never” has begun to seem the more likely option.
There has been no sign in recent days of a groundswell of Republican senators willing to convict Trump. Instead, several have pushed back against the idea of the trial, suggesting it is improper, or at least unnecessary, now that Trump has left office.
The anti-Trump tide that swelled enough to reach many Republicans after insurrectionary violence erupted at the Capitol on Jan. 6 looks to be ebbing.
“I think momentum has slowed in recent weeks, and there is a desire among a broad swath of the party to put this behind them and move on,” said Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist and former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Gorman added, of the Democratic-led effort to convict Trump, “I’m not saying it won’t get any support [from Republicans] but I think the people who would take this from a handful to a sizable number have dwindled away.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, has been clear that he believes Trump committed an impeachable offense by his inflammatory rhetoric that preceded the violence at the Capitol.
Beyond Romney, the Republicans most often cited as possible votes to convict Trump are Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).
There are some other possibilities but even GOP figures skeptical of Trump believe the potential votes against him within his own party are likely to be capped closer to six or seven than the 17 that would be required to convict.
Some GOP senators have poured cold water on the whole idea of the impeachment process in recent days.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has called the trial “stupid” and “counterproductive.”
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the Trump impeachment process is now “a moot point.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), according to The Associated Press, said: “I think a lot of Americans are going to think it’s strange that the Senate is spending its time trying to convict and remove from office a man who left office a week ago.”
The House formally delivered the article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday evening. Conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds supermajority.
If Trump does indeed prevail by a clear margin it will raise questions as to how the GOP deals with him in the future, however.
The fissures between the populist, “Make America Great Again” wing of the party and its more establishment voices have never been deeper.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been widely reported to have lost patience with Trump, and to be seeking a way to clearly repudiate him.
The question has always been whether the politics line up for that move.
Trump’s political leverage had been dwindling after he was blamed for the GOP’s loss of two Senate seats representing Georgia — a double defeat that also gave Democrats control of the upper chamber.
But the president’s supporters have raised the possibility of forming a breakaway party. Even if they do not follow through, it is tough to see how Republicans win national elections without the Trump base.
Republicans critical of Trump acknowledge the difficult political calculus that is at play.
Individual members might view Trump’s antics with distaste — but that is not necessarily reason enough for them to cast a vote or issue a denunciation that might draw a primary challenge or condemn them to defeat in a general election.
Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist and senior adviser to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, said:
“If you want to have the support of Donald Trump because his personality is big and helpful in your district, then you are going to try to highlight your support of him. But when it comes to the principles of the Republican Party, Donald Trump has shown that he has none. And so, for those that do, that makes it very hard to follow him.”
Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist who is not aligned with the Never Trump wing but has argued that the party needs to appeal beyond its base, said of the upcoming trial:
“A vote to convict would be a gutsy call for any Republican up for reelection in 2022.”
But he also asserted that the events of Jan. 6 had provoked some level of reevaluation within the GOP.
“There is no question that there is a greater realization of the consequences of uncritical support for Donald Trump,” he said. “There is something about fearing for your life that rivets the attention.”
Just on Monday alone, however, two events showed what a long shadow Trump still casts over the party.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), viewed as a relative moderate, announced he would not seek reelection in 2022. Meanwhile, Trump’s former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders launched her candidacy to become Arkansas’s governor.
The GOP looks like it will be living with Trump for a long time yet.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.