What future does Trump have in the Republican Party after January 20?
There have been just four impeachments in US history and Donald Trump is the object of half of them.
If he loses his upcoming trial in the Senate, he could be barred from holding future office, eliminating him as a candidate to run for president again in 2024.
So, is this the end of the road for Trump? And what does it mean for a badly divided Republican Party. While Trump may never occupy the White House again, many experts say ‘Trumpism’, or the MAGA (Make America Great Again) Movement) is far from over.
“There’s a lot of tension in the (Republican) party right now. What direction does it go?” said Matt Terrill, a former Republican party strategist now with consulting firm Firehouse Strategies. “President Trump has been the strongest voice in the party for the last four years. Will that be the case for the next four years?” he added.
In recent days a string of Republicans have broken ranks with Trump, some even abandoning the party over its slavish cult-like adherence to Trump and his allegedly unconstitutional and potentially criminal acts. Vice President Mike Pence was not surprisingly upset after his was left exposed to rioters calling for him to be hanged during the storming of the Capitol on Jan 6. And more serious perhaps, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, openly criticized Trump’s refusal to recognize his election loss and has not spoken with him since.
“If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We’d never see the whole nation accept the election again,” he told the Senate.
In his own speeches Trump and his top supporters have turned on once loyal Republicans, including former Attorney General William Barr and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, for failing to stick up for him.
He has also been banned on social media and his Trump Organization lost a host of contracts including a PGA golf tour event at one of his resorts. One bank even kicked his daughter, Ivanka Trump, off its board, which other banks and major corporations are suspending their donations to Republicans who voted not to recognize the Nov 3 elections results.
Despite the tsunami of rejection, Trump and his family remain defiant, bragging that support is so strong for the president that the Republican party now belongs to him. And anyone who dares get in their way better watch out.
The party of Trump
“This isn’t their Republican Party anymore. This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” his son, Donald Trump Jr., told the crowd on January 5 before it marched to the Capitol.
“The MAGA movement is going … nowhere,” said his other son, Eric Trump, adding that his father “created the greatest political movement in American history.”
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Trump’s second impeachment vote was 232 to 197, that’s two more "yes" votes than his first impeachment in December 2019, but it was much more bipartisan with 10 Republicans who broke with their President, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking Republican in the House and daughter of the former vice president.
But a day earlier some analysts, including some supposed sources inside the White House, were predicting as many as 24 Republicans would vote against Trump. His fate remains uncertain in the Senate where outrage over the president’s actions is greater.
Conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds majority, or 67 senators if all 100 members are present. If all 50 Democrats vote to convict, then another 17 Republicans would be required.
To be sure, the impeachment may have damaged Trump’s legacy, and his electability. But a grass roots base in the party remains steadfastly loyal to what it perceives as his authentic, anti-establishment, 'America First' message, most analysts agree.
“There’s no question Trump’s brand has taken a hit among many voters, some people in Washington and the corporations and political donors,” said Terrill. “But how do the grass root voters feel. I suspect they are not going to move away, regardless of impeachment,” he added.
While some Republican leaders may not like Trump, they fear impeachment may make him a martyr with the base and actually empower him. Others fear that the toxic mix of right-wing militias, white supremacists and MAGA conspiracy theorists, that showed its ugly head on Jan 6, will not go away quietly, instilling real fear among politicians of more violent attacks.
That leaves the party almost a hostage of the far right. As a result, Trump is likely to remain a force in the party's 2022 and 2024 races. Indeed, two-thirds of House Republicans voted to decertify the election results — in the hours after an insurrection, and 93% of House Republicans voted against impeachment on Wednesday.
Erosion in the polls
In an Axios-Ipsos poll 64% of Republicans said they support Trump's recent behavior, and 57% of Republicans said Trump should be their 2024 candidate. Only 17% think he should be removed from office.
But, it’s hard to ignore the continuing erosion of support for Trump in the party’s traditional conservative core.
The Axios poll found that a majority of Republicans - 56% - consider themselves traditional Republicans, while 36% call themselves Trump Republicans. Among those who identify themselves as traditional Republicans, 24% say Trump should be removed. But just 1% of self-identified Trump supporters are open to that — and 94% say no to removal.
Those numbers present a complicated path forward for the Republican Party, says Wadi Gaitan, a former Republican party official and congressional staffer who now works for the non-partisan Libre Initiative which promotes conservative policies in the Hispanic community.
A new leader?
“There has to be someone on the traditional side of the party that rises up and can be a new leader and can still bring in that 36% but is still representative of the 56%,” he said, adding that the party has a strong lineup of alternative candidates, such as Nikki Haley or Marco Rubio.
Gaitan, who is not a Trump supporter, said he would like to see the party return to its conservative, free market roots, as well as more inclusive and less nationalist policies. "The Republican party has to come back to driving their message around the American Dream,” he said.
Much will depend on whether Trump decides to play a dominant role in the party, or reverts to his former reality TV celebrity status, taking a more back seat role as a kingmaker.
“It’s not an easy shift because if the only person stepping up continues to be Trump it’s going to be hard for the party to move forward,” said Gaitan.