Enduring Republican support for former President Donald Trump, even after the Capitol insurrection and his second impeachment trial, has left some conservatives wondering if the party still has a place for them.
“The GOP [Republican Party] is in a really dark place right now,” said Olivia Troye, a former aide to then-Vice President Mike Pence, who added that she and others like her now feel politically “homeless.”
Troye, who resigned in protest over the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, is now director of the newly established Republican Accountability Project, a political action committee working to unseat Trump allies and elect “principled conservatives.”
“I'm not saying we're going to rehabilitate the Republican Party overnight; we are far from that,” she said. “We're looking at several years of looking at what direction the party wants to go.”
The party is experiencing a major rift, with Trump slamming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just days after the top Republican voted to acquit him.
On Tuesday, Trump called McConnell a “dour, sullen and unsmiling political hack,” urging Senate Republicans to find a new leader and threatening to back challengers against incumbent Republicans in the next election.
Although McConnell had voted “not guilty” in Trump’s impeachment trial last week, he later excoriated the former president on the Senate floor, saying there was no question that Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events” on January 6, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers certified Democrat Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Meanwhile, the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump on the charge of inciting an insurrection are now facing severe criticism from within the party. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana were formally reprimanded by the Republican Party apparatuses in their states which held a vote to censure them. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Susan Collins of Maine are also facing the threat of censure.
The infighting comes as polls show that Trump remains a force among Republicans. A Quinnipiac poll released Monday showed that 75 percent of Republicans said they would like to see the former president play a prominent role in the party.
Republican Party rift
On Sunday, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, a conservative outlet owned by Trump ally Rupert Murdoch, warned that Trump would divide the party.
"The country is moving past the Trump Presidency, and the GOP will remain in the wilderness until it does too," wrote the board.
Former Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller dismissed signs of an intraparty rift. “I see there being a division between where the grassroots activists are around the country and many of the leaders in Washington,” he said.
For those who believe Trumpism is too entrenched, there is discussion of a third party. Evan McMullin, a Republican who ran as an independent presidential candidate in 2016, has been leading the talks with former lawmakers and officials from the party.
A new party established by anti-Trump Republicans could be a game-changer, said David Barker, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.
“It may start to command 15-20% of the overall vote in some places,” Barker said, and the remainder of Trump’s Republican Party will “start getting absolutely crushed.”
Capitol riot commission
Despite Trump’s acquittal, his culpability will likely remain in focus as the House of Representatives moves to establish an independent commission to investigate the Capitol siege — similar to the commission that studied the 9/11 attacks for 15 months and issued a sweeping report that led to changes in the nation’s laws and operational framework in dealing with terrorism.
Some Republican lawmakers have signaled their support. For Democrats, the commission may help to hold Trump accountable and reveal information that could reduce his political clout as the country heads toward the 2022 midterm elections.
Thomas Kean, a Republican and former chair of the 9/11 commission who released a bipartisan call to establish the commission to investigate the Capitol siege, said the goal should not be to hold the former president accountable.
“This is not a commission to get President Trump,” said Kean. “It’s a commission of fact-finders to prevent the event from happening again.” If Congress drafts the resolution in a bipartisan manner and appoints men and women with integrity who would put the country first, Kean said, then no one can make the argument that this is a vendetta against Trump.
Media attention brought on by multiple criminal investigations, civil state inquiries and defamation lawsuits from two women who accused him of sexual assault may also determine how much Trump will continue to influence Republican Party politics.
Currently, Trump remains popular within his party. According to a Morning Consult/Politico poll released Tuesday, more than half of Republicans would support Trump in a Republican primary if he were to run for president again.
“Trump is the present and the future of the Republican Party,” said Miller, the former Trump adviser. “It doesn't matter if the establishment politicians come after him, whether they be Republican or Democrat. The president's not going to back down.”
On Tuesday, Democratic U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson and the NAACP civil rights organization sued Trump, his attorney Rudy Giuliani and far-right groups Proud Boys and Oath Keepers over their roles in the January 6 attack.
Trump is also dealing with two new investigations in Georgia over calls he made to officials in which he appeared to pressure them to overturn the state's election results. He is facing a criminal investigation in New York on potential tax and insurance fraud.
It’s hard to say whether any of this will impact Trump’s political future, said Barker of American University, underscoring that Republicans have stuck with Trump despite multiple investigations and electoral losses.
“I’ll go ahead and say that he will probably survive and have influence, unless the criminal probes get him and he goes to prison,” Barker said. “It will be hard to have a lot of influence from behind bars.”