One of the few lasting impacts of the odd, digital national conventions that took place last summer was the Republican abandonment of a party platform, as the GOP cited the pandemic as an opportunity to ditch concrete policy goals in order to “enthusiastically support” Trump and his “America-first agenda.” And though their candidate admitted defeat two months after the election, the platform of fealty remains true — even after the former president helped stir up an insurrection causing federal troops to deploy in the nation’s capital until the early spring.
Despite initial reports that GOP leaders would consider exiling Trump from high office with an impeachment conviction in the Senate, lawmakers are mostly rallying behind a traditional party approach — doing nothing. As New York’s Jonathan Chait notes: “Senate Republicans are coalescing around a technical claim that Trump cannot be impeached because he has already left office, an argument at odds with the conclusion of most scholars, but which allows them to avoid casting firm judgment on Trump’s incitement. McCarthy, who last week said Trump ‘bears responsibility’ for the mob attack, now says, ‘I don’t believe he provoked it if you listen to what he said at the rally.’”
The movement to support Trump after his supporters sieged the Capitol is taking place at all levels of the party. At the top, the Washington Post reports that one RNC committeewoman has pressed party head Ronna McDaniel to push a resolution condemning the impeachment. And across the country, the ten House Republicans who voted to impeach the president on one article of incitement of insurrection have dealt with swift pushback for holding the president accountable. As the New York Times notes, almost all of those who voted to impeach Trump “have either already been formally censured by local branches of the G.O.P., face upcoming censure votes, or have been publicly scolded by local party leaders.”
Liz Cheney, the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House, is navigating the most serious challenge in the wake of an impeachment vote: At least 107 GOP representatives, representing just over a majority of the House Republican vote, reportedly support removing Cheney from her leadership position on a secret ballot. Like her counterparts in South Carolina and Michigan, she is now facing a newly inspired 2022 primary challenge for her rebuke of the president. According to the Washington Post, Trump is also prepared to help challengers running against representatives who broke the party vote on impeachment, with over $70 million in campaign cash squirreled away to do so.
But it’s not just the ten representatives who made Trump’s second impeachment the most bipartisan one in history who are being ostracized within the ranks of the GOP. The Arizona Republican Party this weekend voted to censure Governor Doug Ducey, former senator Jeff Flake, and Cindy McCain for opposing Trump’s baseless attempt to contest the election. (Ducey was also censured for implementing COVID-lockdown restrictions in the state considered by the party as “dictatorial powers,” while Flake and McCain were condemned for endorsing President Biden.) The party also voted to reinstate Kelli Ward as its chair after Trump endorsed her, despite losing a Senate race in 2018 and encouraging anti-lockdown protesters to dress up as medical workers during their demonstrations in April.
Republicans who initially condemned the president’s role in the Capitol riot may be doing so at their own electoral expense. In one poll taken the week after the insurrection, 81 percent of GOP voters approved of Trump, compared to just 32 percent approval for Mitch McConnell. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon-supporting, Sandy Hook–questioning freshman congresswoman, summarized the crowd wisdom in a recent tweet: “The vast majority of Republican voters, volunteers, and donors are no longer loyal to the GOP, Republican Party, and candidates just because they have an R by their name. Their loyalty now lies with Donald J Trump.”
Despite early threats of defecting to start a Patriot Party under his leadership, Trump’s loyalty reportedly lies with the GOP for now. According to the New York Times, Trump has been “talked out of” the idea of founding a third party as leverage to ensure his acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial.