On Tuesday night, Republicans were appalled when Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories helped them lose political control of the Senate. But, by Wednesday, it had cost physical control of the Senate as a MAGA mob stormed the Capitol and upended a joint session of Congress convened to confirm Joe Biden’s election as the next president. When it was all over, the Capitol had been ransacked and five people had died.
In conversations with nearly a dozen Republican operatives within the party, there was a sense not just of frustration with Trump but that his political influence had been fundamentally diminished after the week’s events.
“A lot of the Establishment, people like myself that have come along with this and helped him get elected the first time and stayed onboard the second time, we’re at the point now where we are fed up,” one veteran Republican operative said. “Yesterday is the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Severals mused about somehow leaving office before his term ended. “Trump is awful. I’m not sure we can deal with two weeks of him,” said one. However, there was the worry that using the 25th Amendment or impeachment “may do more harm than good,” as one put it. “They need to get him to resign somehow — give him some kind of fake excuse.”
Even before the Capitol was invaded by a mob of Trump supporters, operatives were ready to move on from Trump and his postelection conspiracy theories.
“The fact that Jon Ossoff is a U.S. Senator is a travesty that lays square at the feet of Donald J. Trump,” said one Republican strategist on Tuesday night after Ossoff won. This party insider was appalled that Trump’s months of complaining about his election loss and false claims of fraud had overshadowed everything else, culminating in an Election Eve rally in Georgia where Trump reserved his harshest attacks for the state’s incumbent Republican governor. “If this runoff was at Thanksgiving, it’s a close but comfortable win,” said the strategist. “But he muddled the message and made it about himself.”
Another Republican strategist who had worked in Georgia in the past echoed this. “If he’s trying to remain the guy in the GOP, pulling this kind of stuff that results in us throwing away Senate seats is … not the way to go about it.” The strategist added: “What a disaster. We should have won. We should have won the presidency. Biden is incapacitated, almost. And we still lost.”
It wasn’t just Trump who got blamed for the loss in Georgia and the events of Wednesday. Another Republican strategist pointed a finger at Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who was accused of putting his national political ambitions ahead of holding on to a GOP Senate majority. Hawley helped spark the fight over $2,000 stimulus checks in the COVID relief package, and was the first Republican to announce he would object to electoral votes from states that Biden won in the joint session of Congress on Wednesday.
“Between tweeting about $2,000 checks and opposing certification, he’s managed to hijack the narrative twice in the last two weeks in ways that really helped Schumer,” said a Republican strategist. “He basically stepped on the video of Warnock’s wife” — a potentially damaging clip where she alleged in a police body-cam video that he ran over her foot in a moving car.
Antipathy toward Hawley and Senator Ted Cruz, another leading proponent of objecting to the electoral votes, only grew after the invasion of the Capitol on Wednesday. One strategist thought that they had made a mistake by joining Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. They were “loony enough to believe that MAGA would transfer to them. It’s a cult of personality, not a movement of ideas.” Another strategist thought the two had doomed any presidential ambitions. “There might be an appetite for it but neither one will be president,” said a well-connected Republican strategist. “You’re buying a ticket on a train that doesn’t go all the way to the White House, it stops short.”
This week’s events also led aspiring candidates in the 2022 midterms to rethink their relationship with Trump and the electoral utility of his endorsement. Those who wanted it only days ago are now saying, “Maybe I’ll wait and see … what happened [Wednesday] has left such a bad taste in people’s mouths, anyone with ambition is on pause” in seeking Trump’s favor.
There was still a sense that Trump maintained a grip on some proportion of the GOP even after everything, but no one could tell how a big slice that would be or when it would become clear how much influence the outgoing president would maintain after leaving office.
In the meantime, looking back on Wednesday’s riot, one strategist said: “I think Trumpism had a very bad day. Democracy had a worse day because it showed the ugliness of where the road leads.”