Former President Donald Trump singled out each of the 17 Republicans in Congress who voted to impeach or prosecute him for his actions leading up to the deadly Capitol riot on Jan. 6 when he spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday.
It’s nothing new for Trump to take aim at fellow Republicans. In reality, it was a defining feature of his 2016 GOP presidential campaign as an outsider. Trump, on the other hand, is now the party’s ultimate insider, having reshaped the grassroots GOP apparatus in his image at the local and state levels.
With Trump vying to remain the most powerful voice in Republican politics heading into next year’s midterm elections, with the possibility of running for president again in 2024, it’s state and local leaders who are working to help him maintain his position in the party by taking aim at detractors and anyone trying to sway the GOP in a different direction.
Most prominently, these state and local parties issued a torrent of censures or other forms of criticism not long after a violent pro-Trump mob invaded the Capitol bent on disrupting Congress as it formalized President Joe Biden’s victory, motivated by the former president’s lie about a stolen election and egged on that day by Trump himself. After House Democrats moved quickly to impeach Trump on the charge of “incitement to rebellion,” many of the moves were directed at the small number of Republicans who voted in favor of impeachment or prosecution.
One of Louisiana’s U.S. senators, Bill Cassidy, was censured by the state GOP shortly after voting to prosecute Trump. Just days later, the state GOP in North Carolina passed a similar bill directed at Senator Richard Burr.
Larry Smith, the chair of the LaSalle County Republican Party and a participant in the campaign to censure Rep. Adam Kinzinger after he voted to impeach Trump, told NBC News that local GOP leaders in his state are “overwhelmingly still pro-Trump,” and that the critics are “a splinter group by comparison.”
Republicans who believe they can leave Trump behind, he said, are either stunningly naive or have utterly misread the tea leaves.
He cited Kinzinger’s remarks in The Atlantic, in which the lawmaker expressed hope that by the midterm elections, the portion of the GOP base ready to vote against Trump will have grown to 35 or 45 percent.
It’s “just dazzling that they think that will erode, because I don’t see that at all,” he said.
Not all of the condemnations stemmed from the impeachment vote. Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona was chastised by the state GOP for certifying Biden’s victory there last fall. In Kentucky, a number of local GOP chairs have chastised or chastised Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for blaming Trump for the disastrous riot, despite the fact that he voted to convict him.
Rather than representing the mainstream GOP, the coalition of 17 Republicans, according to Jeff Timmer, a former chairman of the Michigan GOP who endorsed Biden last fall, “are the party’s radicals.”
“It’s the Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Matt Gaetzes and Jim Jordans and these local party and state party organizations censuring the folks who stood against the insurrection, stood for the Constitution and the rule of law — they are the mainstream,” he said. “And this talk of a serious divide in the Republican Party, it just isn’t real.”
The resolutions act as a message to those in the party who want to chart a new path in the wake of Trump’s loss last fall: the overwhelming majority of the party’s rank and file are uninterested. As a result, any internal civil war-style reckoning is looking highly impossible at the moment.
For example, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who had an expletive-filled argument with Trump during the siege, claimed that Trump was partly to blame for the riot. Following that, the California Republican paid a visit to Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in an attempt to mend fences. McConnell, who savaged Trump in the aftermath of the riot, told Fox News last week that, he told Fox News last week that he would support Trump if he is the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee.
Within the GOP, this attempt to appease critics is far from complete. A first attempt by Nelson and a few other county chairs in Kentucky to pass a resolution demanding that McConnell support Trump was rejected by the state party. In Utah, the state GOP released a lengthy statement saying there is room in the party for both Mitt Romney and Mike Lee’s views on impeachment. The majority of the primary races are still also a long way off.