The war for the Republican Party’s soul lasted about as long as a season of “The Apprentice.” Former won.
Thursday marks four months to the day since the Jan 6. insurrection Trump incited, and for which he was impeached.
At the time, top GOP figures including Senate Minority Leader (R-Ky.) spoke out against Trump. McConnell at one point hinted at the possibility of a significant GOP vote to remove the then-president, in the apparent hope of ridding the party of the insurrection’s stain.
It’s all changed now.
Trump’s most aggressive GOP critic, Rep. (R-Wyo.) looks likely to be ousted from her House leadership position within days. McConnell, who spoke out in Cheney’s defense during a February push against her, has conspicuously declined to do so this time.
Cheney is not retreating from her view that basic democratic values require a repudiation of Trump, his role in the riot and his ongoing false allegations of election fraud.
Speaking to donors earlier this week, she called Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen “a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy.”
But the writing is on the wall for Cheney, and she appears to know it. Politico reported Wednesday that she is not bothering to canvass members in the hope of holding onto her leadership role.
Her likely challenger — and likely replacement — is Rep. (R-N.Y.), a Trump loyalist. The former president endorsed her in a statement Wednesday, calling her “a far superior choice” to Cheney, whom he labeled “a warmongering fool who has no business in Republican Party leadership.”
Stefanik is being openly backed by the No. 2 House Republican, Minority Whip (La.).
House Minority Leader (R-Calif.) has also withdrawn his support from Cheney, and was caught in an unguarded moment on a Fox News live mic saying he has “had it” with her, according to Axios.
The attempts to remove Cheney “are being driven by the rank-and-file, not the Freedom Caucus,” one GOP operative with close ties to Trump World told this column earlier this week.
But it’s not just about the battle between Cheney and Trump.
Four months ago, the then-president was wounded and vulnerable. He had just become the first White House incumbent since President George H.W. Bush in 1992 to lose a fight for reelection. Republicans lost two seats in Georgia in a special election held the day before the insurrection, costing them control of the Senate — a needless fumble for which many blamed Trump. And then there was the riot itself.
“There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” McConnell said on the Senate floor in February.
But since then, Trump has re-exerted his control over the party, even from exile on his Florida estate of Mar-a-Lago.
The vast majority of the party on Capitol Hill is in his thrall, whether for reasons of sincere conviction or because they are cognizant of his astonishingly tenacious hold on the Republican grassroots.
Polls usually put Trump’s approval rating among GOP voters north of 80 percent.
The dissenters are on defense everywhere.
Sen. (R-Utah) was booed at his own state party convention in Utah last weekend, only narrowly escaping a vote of censure.
Less prominent figures who have sought to advance a Trump-skeptical Republicanism have been doused by a cold shower of reality.
One such figure, a Marine Corps Reserves major named Michael Wood, ran for Congress in the recent all-party primary in the Sixth District of Texas. He netted three percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, old foes who long since made their peace with Trump have gone to even greater lengths to demonstrate fealty to him.
Sen. (R-S.C.) had proclaimed “Count me out! Enough is enough” on the Senate floor in the hours after the insurrection. He recently popped up on ’s Fox News show to promote a contest where donors would be entered into a draw to win a golf outing with Trump and him.
Sen. (R-Texas), who tangled bitterly with Trump during the 2016 GOP primary, on Tuesday tweeted a photo of him and the former president dining together at Mar-a-Lago. Cruz informed his followers that Trump was “in great spirits!”
“Nothing like reminiscing about attempted coups over a bouquet of flowers,” Rep. (D-N.Y.) retorted.
The GOP’s embrace of Trump comes with serious political risks.
Party leaders may have calculated that they can’t win without the backing of the fervent Trump base. But that base is insufficient to win national elections — and perhaps competitive statewide ones too.
The GOP base demands their party ties itself to Trump. The general public recoils.
Trump lost the popular vote to by about seven million votes. He is identified in the public mind with disastrous denialism on the COVID-19 pandemic. And he’s simply never been all that popular with the public at large. An Economist/YouGov poll last week indicated just 39 percent of adults view him favorably.
The Beltway consensus on Trump is that he is unlikely to run again in 2024. But that same consensus has been consistently wrong about him. And, if he does seek the nomination of a party that has stretched itself to appease him and his supporters, who will defeat him from the inside? Likely no-one.
The GOP has made its choice. Now, it has to live with the risks.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage
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