It is still Donald Trump’s Republican Party – at least for now. That’s the view of Reuters’ John Whitesides.
He writes that the former president – who has largely stayed out of sight at his Florida home since leaving the White House – still commands fervent loyalty among his supporters, forcing most Republican politicians to pledge their fealty and fear his wrath.
But after two impeachments, months of false claims that his election loss to Joe Biden was rigged, and an assault on the US Capitol by his supporters that left five people dead, Trump is also political poison in many of the swing districts that often decide American elections.
That leaves Republicans in a precarious position as they try to forge a winning coalition in the 2022 elections for control of Congress and a 2024 White House race that might include Trump as a candidate.
“It’s hard to imagine Republicans winning national elections without Trump supporters anytime soon,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and aide to Senator Marco Rubio during his 2016 presidential primary race against Trump.
“The party is facing a real Catch 22: it can’t win with Trump but it’s obvious it can’t win without him either,” he said.
Trump has not signaled his long-range political plans for after the trial, although he has publicly hinted at another run for the White House and he is reportedly keen to help primary challengers to Republicans in Congress who voted to impeach or convict him. His statement issued after the verdict said:
Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun. In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people. There has never been anything like it! We have so much work ahead of us, and soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future.
Just days after the pro-Trump mob breached the Capitol, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found 70% of Republicans still approved of Trump’s job performance, and a later poll found a similar percentage believed he should be allowed to run for office again.
But outside his party he is unpopular. A new Ipsos poll published on Saturday showed that 71% of Americans believed Trump was at least partially responsible for starting the assault on the Capitol. Fifty percent believed he should be convicted in the Senate with 38% opposed and 12% unsure.
“Whether he does run again is up to him, but he’s still going to have an enormous amount of influence on both the direction of the policy and also in evaluating who is a serious standard-bearer for that message,” one adviser said. “You can call it a kingmaker or whatever you want to call it.”
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said on Saturday that Donald Trump was ‘practically and morally responsible’ for the insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January – minutes after voting to acquit the former president in his impeachment trial for that very same act.
His argument, that it was not right for the Senate to impeach a former office holder, was roundly criticised. It was McConnell himself who refused to reconvene the Senate to hear the charges against Trump earlier in January when he was still in office.
House majority leader Nancy Pelosi said the issue of timing ‘was not the reason that McConnell voted the way he did; it was the excuse that he used’.
Welcome to our live coverage of US politics, the day after the 45th president of the republic, Donald Trump, was acquitted in the Senate for a second time after an impeachment trial.
- 57 Senators voted that Trump was guilty of “incitement of insurrection” in the events leading up to the Capitol attack on 6 January. That’s not enough to get the two-thirds supermajority required, and so the former president was, as expected, acquitted.
- The outcome, which was never in doubt, reflected both the still raw anger of senators over Trump’s conduct as his supporters stormed the Capitol last month – and the vice-like grip the defeated president still holds over his party.
- It does, nevertheless, represent the most bipartisan impeachment vote in US history – seven Republicans broke ranks and voted alongside Democratic and independent senators that Trump was guilty.
- President Joe Biden urged Americans to defend democracy following the acquittal, saying: “This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile.”
- In a statement last night, Biden said the substance of the charge against his predecessor over the Capitol riot on 6 January, in which five people died, was not in dispute.
- Donald Trump expressed no remorse and in a statement made no mention of the violence that unfolded in his name, and offered no condolences to those who had given their lives to protect the US Capitol.
- He signaled his desire to remain a political force within the Republican party, and in a sentence liable to excite the conspiracy theorists among his following, he said “In the months ahead I have much to share with you.”
- Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell directly blamed Trump for the insurrection, even though he voted to acquit the former president. “There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically, and morally, responsible for provoking the events of the day,” McConnell said.
- Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer expressed dismay over the acquittal. The Democratic leader urged Americans to never forget the violence and destruction of the Capitol insurrection. “Remember that day, January 6th, forever — the final, terrible legacy of the 45th president of the United States,” Schumer said. “Let it live on in infamy, a stain on Donald John Trump that can never, never be washed away.”
We’ll have live analysis and reaction as it unfolds on Sunday, so stay tuned…