‘Hell, Yes,’ Republicans Are Headed for a Bitter Internal Showdown
As President Trump prepares to leave office with his party in disarray, Republican leaders including Senator Mitch McConnell are maneuvering to thwart his grip on the G.O.P. in future elections, while forces aligned with Mr. Trump are looking to punish Republican lawmakers and governors who have broken with him.
The bitter infighting underscores the deep divisions Mr. Trump has created in the G.O.P. and all but ensures that the next campaign will represent a pivotal test of the party’s direction, with a series of clashes looming in the months ahead.
The friction is already escalating in several key swing states in the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s incitement of the mob that attacked the Capitol last week. They include Arizona, where Trump-aligned activists are seeking to censure the Republican governor they deem insufficiently loyal to the president, and Georgia, where a hard-right faction wants to defeat the current governor in a primary election.
In Washington, Republicans are particularly concerned about a handful of extreme-right House members who could run for Senate in swing states, potentially tarnishing the party in some of the most politically important areas of the country. Mr. McConnell’s political lieutenants envision a large-scale campaign to block such candidates from winning primaries in crucial states.
But Mr. Trump’s political cohort appears no less determined, and his allies in the states have been laying the groundwork to take on Republican officials who voted to impeach Mr. Trump — or who merely acknowledged the plain reality that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had won the presidential race.
Republicans on both sides of the conflict are acknowledging openly that they are headed for a showdown.
“Hell yes we are,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump.
Mr. Kinzinger was equally blunt when asked how he and other anti-Trump Republicans could dilute the president’s clout in primaries: “We beat him,” he said.
The highest-profile tests of Mr. Trump’s clout may come in two sparsely populated Western states, South Dakota and Wyoming, where the president has targeted a pair of G.O.P. leaders: John Thune, the second-ranking Senate Republican, and Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican.
“I suspect we will see a lot of that activity in the next couple of years out there for some of our members, myself included,” said Mr. Thune, adding that he and others would have to “play the hand you’re dealt.”
He may face less political peril than Ms. Cheney, who in voting to impeach Mr. Trump said that “there has never been a greater betrayal by a president.” The Wyoming Republican Party said it had been inundated with calls and messages from voters fuming about her decision.
Mr. Trump has talked to advisers about his contempt for Ms. Cheney in the days since the vote and expressed his glee about the backlash she is enduring in her home state.
Privately, Republican officials concerned about possible campaigns for higher office by some of the high-profile backbenchers in the House who have railed against the election results and propagated fringe conspiracy theories. Among those figures are Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Andy Biggs of Arizona. All three states have Senate seats and governorships up for election in 2022.
Just as striking, a number of mainline conservatives in the House are speaking openly about how much Mr. Trump damaged himself in the aftermath of the election, culminating with his role in inspiring the riots.
“The day after the election, that question of leadership was unquestionably in one person’s hands, and each week that has gone past, he has limited himself, sadly, based off his own actions,” said Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, who predicted that rank-and-file voters would come to share his unease after they fully absorbed the Capitol riot.
Still, Mr. Trump has vowed a campaign of political retribution against lawmakers who have crossed him — a number that has grown with the impeachment vote. The president remains hugely popular with the party’s grass roots and is most likely capable of raising enough money to be a disruptive force in 2022.
Scott Reed, the former chief political strategist for the Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business lobby, said that Republicans should prepare for a ferocious internecine battle. Mr. Reed, who as an ally of Mr. McConnell’s helped crush right-wing populists in past elections, said the party establishment would have to exploit divisions within Mr. Trump’s faction to guide its favored candidates into power.
“In 2022, we’ll be faced with the Trump pitchfork crowd, and there will need to be an effort to beat them back,” Mr. Reed said. “Hopefully they’ll create multicandidate races where their influence will be diluted.”
An early test for the party is expected in the coming days, with Trump loyalists attempting to strip Ms. Cheney of her House leadership role. Should that effort prove successful, it could further indicate to voters and donors that the party’s militant wing is in control — a potentially alarming signal to more traditional Republicans in the business community.
Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, has acknowledged to political donors in recent days that the departing president and some members of his faction have seriously damaged the party’s relationship with big business, people familiar with his conversations said.
If Ms. Cheney is deposed, it could encourage primary challenges against other Republicans who supported impeachment or censure, including more moderate lawmakers like Representatives Peter Meijer and Fred Upton of Michigan and John Katko of New York, whose districts could slip away from Republicans if they nominated hard-line Trump loyalists. But in a sign that Mr. Trump can’t expect to fully dictate party affairs, Mr. McCarthy has indicated that he opposes calls to remove her from leadership.
William E. Oberndorf, an influential Republican donor who gave $2.5 million to Mr. McConnell’s super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, in the 2020 election, said that donors should be closely watching the impeachment votes as they formulate their plans for giving. A longtime critic of Mr. Trump, Mr. Oberndorf said it had been a mistake for the party not to oust Mr. Trump during his first impeachment trial last year.
“They now have a chance to address this egregious mistake and make sure Donald Trump will never be able to run for public office again,” Mr. Oberndorf said. “Republican donors should be paying attention to how our elected officials vote on this matter.”
It is not yet clear how widely the party leadership might embrace a no-new-Trumps strategy, and there are strong indications that the Republican base might react with fury to any explicit effort to relegate the former president to the political dustbin. In a vexing complication for Senate leaders, the chairman of their campaign committee, Senator Rick Scott of Florida, has spoken critically of impeachment and opposed certifying Pennsylvania’s election results — a vote that could undermine his ability to raise funds from big donors.
Capitol Riot Fallout
From Riot to Impeachment
The riot inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, followed a rally at which President Trump made an inflammatory speech to his supporters, questioning the results of the election. Here’s a look at what happened and the ongoing fallout:
- As this video shows, poor planning and a restive crowd encouraged by President Trump set the stage for the riot.
- A two hour period was crucial to turning the rally into the riot.
- Several Trump administration officials, including cabinet members Betsy DeVos and Elaine Chao, announced that they were stepping down as a result of the riot.
- Federal prosecutors have charged more than 70 people, including some who appeared in viral photos and videos of the riot. Officials expect to eventually charge hundreds of others.
- The House voted to impeach the president on charges of “inciting an insurrection” that led to the rampage by his supporters.
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