Trump and the GOP
Rep. Liz Cheney is reported as saying, in an interview on “Fox News Sunday”, that Trump ‘does not have a role as a leader of our party going forward’. It is worth examining why she might have said this and what the implications are for the future of her party.
The Republican party is known as the ‘Grand Old Party’ (GOP), tracing its origin to Abraham Lincoln. As she said, “With respect to where we are as a party … we are the party of Lincoln. We are not the party of QAnon or anti-Semitism or Holocaust deniers or white supremacy or conspiracy theories. That’s not who we are”. She was trying to distance her party from the views of some of Donald Trump’s supporters who invaded the Capitol building on 6 January, an incident for which the ex-president is now facing impeachment proceedings.
A BBC report, Capitol riots: Who broke into the building?, identified “individuals associated with a range of extreme and far-right groups and supporters of fringe online conspiracy theories, many of whom have long been active online and at pro-Trump rallies”, including QAnon. The report contains links to further information about Qanon and the Proud Boys, a heavily-armed anti-immigrant militia.
According to a YouGov poll taken the following day, “Most voters say the events at the US Capitol are a threat to democracy”, although among Republican voters “only a quarter (27%) think this should be considered a threat to democracy, with two-thirds (68%) saying otherwise”. Liz Cheney, then, is fighting an uphill battle against grassroots opinion in her party – although many Trump supporters had been persuaded that the election results were fraudulent, so they perceived the Democrats rather than Trump as a threat to democracy.
She is not alone in her party, though. CNN cited George W Bush and Mitt Romney among others in its report: Angry Republican leaders float removing Trump from office. They agreed that the election results were not fraudulent and that Trump was putting American democracy at risk by undermining public trust in the system. Now that the House has called for impeachment, it is up to the Senate what happens next.
Some wealthy individuals have been trying to influence the debate by funding the campaigns of several senators, as reported by The Guardian: Billionaires backed Republicans who sought to reverse US election results. “The Club for Growth’s biggest beneficiaries include Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, the two Republican senators who led the effort to invalidate Joe Biden’s electoral victory”. These sleazy individuals continue to support Trump – but presumably what they really want is to win the next election.
The key question is whether Trump as a personality is necessary to the future of the GOP. “If you can replicate his draw amongst rural, working-class voters without the insanity, you have a permanent governing majority,” said Josh Holmes, a top adviser to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.
McConnell knows that to win the next election he needs not only to retain Trump’s existing supporters but also attract some who had previously voted Democrat (and who strongly disapprove of Trump). Trump’s behaviour may also have cost the GOP its Senate majority, in upsetting some Republicans and losing two seats in the Georgia Senate election. The party now has an opportunity to reset its future by convicting Trump in the Senate. That would let it distance itself from an individual who has badly tarnished his reputation, and it will have enough time to adjust its messaging before the mid-term elections next year.