Republicans eye primaries in impeachment vote

GOP lawmakers who vote to impeach President TrumpDonald TrumpDemocrats, activists blast reported Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report MORE could draw primary challenges from the right, potentially leading many House Republicans to stick by Trump even as they blame him for stoking the deadly riot that consumed Capitol Hill last week.

The president’s allies privately acknowledge that his political power has diminished dramatically. But they say that even a weakened Trump maintains enormous influence over conservatives outside of Washington, many of whom believe wrongly that the election was stolen and are agitating for Republicans to continue to fight.

Trump’s allies say they expect a backlash against Republicans who cross Trump on impeachment, noting that the president’s campaign raised more than $200 million in the months after the election that could act as a well-funded super PAC to unleash on dissenters.


One source close to the White House said they believe the civil unrest, and the widespread anger directed at Trump in the aftermath, make it more likely that he will be involved in the GOP's 2022 primaries.

“If you’re running in a Republican primary, do you really want your opponent to be able to say that you stood with Chuck and Nancy to impeach President Trump 10 days before he left office?” said one prominent GOP operative.

“Trump has a super PAC with $200 million and he’s got the largest small-dollar email list in the country. Even if his support within the party has plunged from 90 percent to 50 percent, that’s a huge amount of people he’s got with him and when the primaries start later this year, the GOP’s base voters will remember this.”

Trump no longer has a Twitter account to lob threats at his critics. Many of the president’s top allies are laying low or dialing back their rhetoric following the violence in Washington.

But even before the riot, Trump was promising primary challenges against Republicans who criticized him, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWineMike DeWineBiden taps ex-consumer bureau chief to oversee student loans The Hill's Morning Report - Census winners and losers; House GOP huddles Ohio sets special election to replace retiring Rep. Steve Stivers MORE, Georgia Gov. Brian KempBrian KempStacey Abrams on why she won't quit working: 'The world isn't fair yet' Georgia, South Carolina governors sign bills to pay college athletes Poll shows tight GOP primary for Georgia governor MORE, and Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneCheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women Trump muddles Republican messaging on Afghanistan The Memo: Trump's critics face wrath of GOP base MORE (S.D.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPollster Frank Luntz: 'I would bet on' Trump being 2024 GOP nominee Trump muddles Republican messaging on Afghanistan Trump drama divides GOP, muddling message MORE (Alaska).

Still, some Republicans believe that the president has so thoroughly self-destructed that the threat of a primary no longer holds the same weight that it once did.


“I suspect no one will fear a primary from any who would identify with the president at this time,” said former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). “Considering what he did, even lawmakers in the most conservative districts can make the case that president disgraced himself and thoroughly violated duties, so I don’t see that as the issue.”

Reps. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Florida's restrictive voting bill signed into law Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women Kinzinger hits GOP on 'operation #coverupJan6' over Cheney ouster plot MORE (R-Ill.) and Pete Meijer (R-Mich.) are among the House Republicans who have described Trump as unfit to finish out his term.

Kinzinger, a U.S. Air Force veteran, ran unopposed in his 2020 primary. He has called on Trump to either resign or be removed through the 25th Amendment.

Meijer is a freshman who won a crowded primary to replace former Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashBiden: 'Prince Philip gladly dedicated himself to the people of the UK' Battle rages over vaccine passports Republicans eye primaries in impeachment vote MORE (L-Mich.), who quit the Republican Party in part over its fealty to Trump.

“It’s something I’m strongly considering at this point,” Meijer said this week of impeachment. “Again, there are timelines, and other considerations in addition to the information I want to have before making that decision, but I think what we saw on Wednesday left the president unfit for office.”

The House will take up a single article of impeachment on Wednesday that accuses Trump of inciting a mob that resulted in five deaths.

The extent of Trump’s grip on House Republicans was evident in the immediate aftermath of the riot, when more than 120 lawmakers voted to dispute the Electoral College vote count in two states despite the president having only hours earlier whipped up a mob that led to the siege on the Capitol.

GOP lawmakers have been making the case that Democrats are rushing the impeachment process and that the effort could further divide the nation. Privately, Republicans say they believe there will be political consequences for those who break with Trump because the grassroots base is on fire with anger at Washington.

“If Republicans vote for a rushed impeachment without a fair hearing, they’re going to be alienating many conservatives,” said one Trump administration insider.

But many Republicans in Washington are so outraged by the events that they’re speaking out against Trump in ways that were unimaginable only one week ago. 

A Quinnipiac University survey released this week found majority support for removing Trump from office. The president’s job approval rating plunged 11 points to an all-time low of 33 percent.

Republican strategists say the riot has brought Washington into an entirely new political era that finds Trump dramatically weakened, while emboldening rank-and-file Republicans to speak out against him.


“This is a very different calculus, so there’s no guarantee you’ll pay the same political price as you would have in 2020,” said one GOP operative. “Kinzinger speaking out is not new. We’ve heard people like Massie speaking out before. Trump’s bark is worse than his bite when it comes to meddling in primaries.”

“Let’s not kid ourselves, there’s no way 50 Republicans are going to vote to impeach. It may only be a handful, and they could attract primary challenges. But Trump could also be on his way to being a total pariah within the party.”

For many Republicans, the decision of whether to vote to impeach Trump is completely divorced from politics.

Many feel like Trump crossed the line and needs to be held to account, whether there are political consequences or not.

“This is no ordinary moment,” said Ron Nehring, a former adviser to Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts Pollster Frank Luntz: 'I would bet on' Trump being 2024 GOP nominee Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls MORE (R-Texas). “The Republican Party brand has just been shattered by footage of insurrectionists wearing MAGA hats beating police officers and wrecking the Capitol. The most significant Republican branding event in 50 years is taking place in slow motion right now. The Republicans in the House and Senate right now are writing what will appear in history books for the next hundred years.”