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For cable commentators, the 2016 GOP primary never ended

The 2016 GOP primary has never ended — at least when it comes to cable news.

Every day on CNN, MSNBC and social media, Republicans who once worked for GOP senators and governors bested by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I don't trust everybody in the White House' JPMorgan CEO withdraws from Saudi conference Trump defends family separations at border MORE in the long primary are among his most vehement critics. Often, their critiques are even more pointed than those coming from Democrats.

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The critics of Trump earning paychecks on cable include Ana Navarro, a surrogate for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a candidate the president dubbed “low energy.”

Navarro regularly goes scorched-earth against Trump as a CNN contributor.

On Tuesday, commenting on the White House’s refusal to apologize to Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMurkowski not worried about a Palin challenge Kavanaugh fight a GOP wake up call, but more is needed MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace: I told Jeb Bush 'he should have punched' Trump 'in the face' MORE (R-Ariz.) over an aide’s off-color comment about the senator’s brain cancer diagnosis, she said the White House was hoping for McCain’s death.

“I think, frankly, what’s happening here is that the White House is irritated that John McCain is not dying of cancer — he’s living with cancer,” Navarro said on CNN’s “New Day.”

Amanda Carpenter, another CNN contributor, once worked for Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzNoisy democracy, or rude people behaving like children? Democrats hold fading odds of winning Senate this November Donald Trump Jr. emerges as GOP fundraising force MORE (R-Texas), who took second to Trump in the 2016 primary and was dubbed “Lyin’ Ted” by the president.

Carpenter generally isn’t as cutting as Navarro, but she has regularly blasted the president, particularly when it comes to his treatment of women.

“This is the same president who laughed along with Howard Stern when he said disgusting things about his daughter,” Carpenter told CNN’s Jake Tapper earlier this year in a discussion about the White House’s handling of domestic abuse allegations against former aide Rob Porter.

“They protect abusers. There’s no way of getting around it,” Carpenter said. “And I guess people will say, ‘It doesn’t matter, you could still be a good president, you could still do your job.’ No. If you are willing to defend someone who hurt somebody in this fashion, you have no boundaries. You have no restraint. You have no respect for the law.”

Others who regularly appear on cable television to talk about the White House and who have ties to Trump’s former rivals include Alice Stewart, who worked for Cruz; MSNBC regular Rick Wilson, a Florida-based Republican strategist with connections to Bush and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenators pledge action on Saudi journalist’s disappearance Senators concerned as Trump official disputes UN climate change warning Rubio: Response to death of Saudi journalist 'can't be symbolic' MORE (R-Fla.); and Rick Tyler, an MSNBC political analyst who worked as a spokesman for Cruz.

It’s not unheard of for aides from failed presidential campaigns to appear on cable television, but Republicans say they can’t remember a time when critics within their party were so outspoken.

Most say it’s largely a matter of Trump, whose political rise divided Republicans and was seen by some as a hostile takeover of the party.

“Some of us feel he’s diminished the party,” one GOP pundit who wished to speak anonymously said. “We have no choice but to call him out as he takes the party apart.”

Many of Trump’s rivals have largely come around on the president.

Cruz and Trump feuded memorably in the primary, with Trump going so far as to suggest the Texan’s father might have had something to do with the assassination of President Kennedy.

Cruz went off on Trump ahead of the Indiana primary, calling him a “narcissist,” a “pathological liar” and “utterly immoral.”

At the Republican National Convention, Cruz was booed off the stage when he refused to endorse Trump.

Since then, the Texas senator, who faces reelection this fall, has come around. He even wrote a tribute to Trump for Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of 2018” feature that said Trump was “doing what he was elected to do: disrupt the status quo.”

“That scares the heck out of those who have controlled Washington for decades, but for millions of Americans, their confusion is great fun to watch,” he wrote.

Rubio, mocked as “Lil’ Marco” by Trump, appeared alongside the president at an event last month in Miami, and Trump called him a “great friend.”

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee regularly defend the president when they appear on CNN and Fox, respectively. (Santorum is a senior political commentator on CNN, while Huckabee is a Fox News contributor.)

Other feuds never really ended.

Bush and his family have repeatedly battled with Trump, and tensions were laid bare when the president did not attend former first lady Barbara Bush’s funeral.

Gov. John Kasich (R) has continued to criticize Trump and is seen as a possible primary opponent in 2020.

John Weaver, the chief strategist for Kasich’s 2016 campaign, and Alex Conant, a longtime Rubio supporter who worked on the senator’s campaign, have also called out Trump.

Conant said last year he was “stunned” by the president’s remarks after a white nationalist rally in Virginia last year.

“This is a big step backward,” Conant said on CNBC. “It puts Republicans in Congress and potential allies in corporate America in a very difficult situation.”

In an interview on Wednesday, Conant said he supports most of Trump’s agenda and while he thinks some of the president’s tweets and rhetoric sets back the Republican agenda, he doesn’t generally go on television to attack him.

Still, he understands why some Republicans are inclined to call out Trump.

“He’s not a traditional conservative,” he said. “He breaks with Reagan and Bush on the core tenants of Republicanism and that’s why a lot of people take issue with his agenda. If Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush would have been president, it would have been much more of a traditional Republican agenda.”

Stewart, a CNN contributor and former aide to Cruz, said she too will call “balls and strikes” when it comes to Trump.

“I think more than anything, at least from my standpoint, there are a lot of things I agree with the president on,” she said. “But when he does things that I don’t agree with, I’ll call him on it. It’s not about having a clash on policy or politics but it’s more about his personality and how he goes about getting things done.”

Navarro is unapologetic about her Trump takedowns.

In an email to The Hill on Tuesday, she said she and other Republicans tried to give Trump a chance when he took office.

“But he hasn’t changed and won’t change,” Navarro said. “I imagine if you have a modicum of decency, it’s got to make even a loyal Republican feel pretty dirty to be constantly having to publicly defend things like hush payments to strippers, lies and insults to a Republican elder facing brain cancer. I mean, even the most servile amongst them has got to look in the mirror every now and then.”

She said she doesn’t care about the criticism she receives from Republicans about her bomb throwing. “It’s not about me.”

Carpenter, whose Twitter profile labels her a “conservative, not a party cheerleader,” says she has also tried to give Trump a chance. And while she has agreed with some of his policy decisions, she has found herself frustrated by the president. 

“For Republicans who want to support Trump, he makes it very difficult,” Carpenter said in an interview, pointing to the president’s scandals and the string of leaks that have emerged from the White House. “He doesn’t make it easy for people to defend him.”

And while she says the fractures are deep within the GOP, “it’s a party worth fighting for.

“I’m not going to yell at other people’s kids, I’m going to yell at my kids,” she said. “And that’s what I want from my party.”