The Memo: GOP schisms deepen as Trump impeachment pressure rises

Republican schisms over President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE are growing deeper as new details emerge about his actions on Ukraine and Democrats push hard for impeachment.

Some Republicans on Capitol Hill are growing weary of defending Trump amid a blizzard of controversies — his de facto abandonment of the Kurds in northern Syria; his decision, swiftly reversed, to hold a Group of Seven (G-7) summit at his resort in Florida; and his likening of impeachment to “a lynching” in a Tuesday morning tweet.

At the same time, other GOP lawmakers are keenly aware of the strong bond between Trump and Republican voters.

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Trump loyalists stormed a secure hearing room at the Capitol on Wednesday morning to protest impeachment. The most fervently pro-Trump members of Congress, such as Reps. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanJordan calls Pelosi accusing Trump of bribery 'ridiculous' The Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing Graham says Schiff should be a witness in Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-Ohio), Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzGaetz wants woman who threw drink at him to serve time Schiff told Gaetz to 'absent yourself' in fiery exchange: impeachment transcript Do Republicans understand the Constitution? MORE (R-Fla.) and Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsDemocrats seize on new evidence in first public impeachment hearing House Republicans call impeachment hearing 'boring,' dismiss Taylor testimony as hearsay Key takeaways from first public impeachment hearing MORE (R-N.C.), have vigorously attacked the impeachment process.

For Trump and his allies, it is an existential battle where nothing is more important than holding the line.

 “He's going to get impeached,” Trump’s former chief strategist Stephen Bannon acknowledged in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “But you have to make [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s vote as partisan as possible.”

Bannon insisted that it was vital for Trump’s presidency that GOP votes for any impeachment resolution in the House should number “zero.”

The former White House strategist, who was also chief executive of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in its final months, said there had to be a full-court press to ensure that retiring GOP House members would not vote for impeachment “on their way out the door.”

Similarly strenuous efforts would have to be made to corral other congressional Republicans who were “on the fence” on impeachment, Bannon said.

Trump is firing warning shots across the bows of any Republicans who might break with him.

The president called “Never Trump” Republicans “human scum” in a tweet Wednesday afternoon, in which he also contended that his internal critics were “in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our Country than the Do Nothing Democrats.”

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One prominent Republican critic, Peter Wehner, told The Hill that he wore the president’s insult as “a badge of honor.”

Wehner, who served in the administrations of the three Republican presidents preceding Trump, also asserted that Trump’s aggressive language showed he is in political peril.

 “It’s obviously a sign of his nervousness and it’s a sign that there is a fracturing within the Republican Party,” Wehner said. “The fact he has to fortify his base is a sign that he’s in trouble — and he knows that he’s in trouble.”

Republicans have become more assertive in expressing dissent from Trump amid the spate of recent controversies.

A bipartisan measure expressing disapproval of his change of policy in northern Syria overwhelminglypassed the House in 354-60 vote last week. Trump was reportedly persuaded to abandon his plans to host next year’s G-7 summit at his Doral resort after Republicans warned him of the political downside. And after his comparison of impeachment with a “lynching,” otherwise stalwart allies like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMcCarthy says views on impeachment won't change even if Taylor's testimony is confirmed House Republicans call impeachment hearing 'boring,' dismiss Taylor testimony as hearsay The Hill's Morning Report - Diplomats kick off public evidence about Trump, Ukraine MORE (R-Calif.) expressed their unease.

Other, subtler signals have also drawn attention in Washington.

The second-ranking Republican in the Senate, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate GOP waves Trump off early motion to dismiss impeachment charges Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump MORE (S.D.), told reporters Wednesday that “the picture coming out” of testimony from a top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor, was “not a good one.”

Taylor’s opening statement in closed-door testimony on Tuesday put a major hole in the White House’s defense of its actions in Ukraine.

His testimony strongly contradicted Trump’s repeated assertion that there was no “quid pro quo” conditioning aid to the Eastern European country on an investigation into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California MORE and his son Hunter.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families On The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings MORE (R-Ky.) raised eyebrows on Tuesday by publicly contradicting the president’s assertion that the Kentucky Republican had called a key phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “innocent.”

“We have not had any conversations on this subject,” McConnell told reporters.

 “The most important man in America is Mitch McConnell, and he has to make a decision in the next few weeks as to whether his majority will survive,” said Rick Wilson, a GOP strategist and vigorous Trump critic. “If Mitch McConnell sees the polling numbers going the wrong way, he will cut him loose.”

From the other end of the GOP spectrum, Bannon worried that long-standing wariness between the Republican establishment and the president could cause Trump big problems.

“He’s going to be dependent on Mitch McConnell and the GOP establishment, and that’s not a position you want to be in,” Bannon said.

Bannon has recently launched a podcast — “War Room: Impeachment” — that aims to marshal the pro-Trump forces.

Republicans acknowledge there is a significant divide between grassroots GOP voters, who admire the president, and elected officials, some of whom have begun to tire of going out on a limb for him.

Ryan Williams, a GOP strategist who worked on Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOcasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Jon Huntsman expected to run for governor in Utah Trump Jr's 'Triggered' debuts at No. 1 on NY Times bestseller list MORE’s (R-Utah) failed 2012 presidential bid, said, “The base of the Republican Party — the voters — are with him 100 percent and there is virtually nothing that could dissuade them. The elected officials, who have to go before TV cameras or walk through a hall of reporters every day, are defending him — but they are weary of how many lines of attack they have to defend.”

Williams cited the "lynching” furor in particular.

 “The president continues to complicate things by opening up new fronts for attacks against him,” he said. “The lynching comment added another element of controversy that now Republicans have to defend him on. They should be focused on defending him on impeachment above everything else.”

Trump critics such as Wehner made clear they were not predicting an instant, full-scale desertion of the president.

But Wehner said the revelations on Ukraine, in particular, had created a significant political danger.

“The pin has been pulled on this grenade,” Wehner said. “It just hasn’t exploded yet.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primary focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.