- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 14, 2021

Donald Trump may have been politically wounded in his second Senate impeachment trial acquittal, but the former president’s fiercely loyal followers are still looking to him to rebuild the Republican Party.

The 57-43 vote for acquittal Saturday demonstrated that Mr. Trump still enjoys a strong grip on the Republican Party’s base and, by extension, Republican lawmakers. In the aftermath of the verdict, however, Republicans are split on whether he can lead them back to power in 2022 and beyond.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, came out of an after-acquittal phone call with Mr. Trump convinced that the former president would lead the party to retake the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections.

“He’s ready to move on and rebuild the Republican Party and is excited about 2022,” Mr. Graham said on “Fox News Sunday,” dubbing the Republican comeback strategy “Trump plus.”

“We need to unite the party. ‘Trump plus’ is the way back in 2022,” he said. “We can’t do that without Donald Trump.”

Some took the same view of the 2024 presidential election.

“Turn on the escalator!” former Trump official Richard Grenell tweeted after the verdict. It was a reference to Mr. Trump’s iconic campaign debut in 2015 when he and his wife, Melania, descended a gold escalator at Trump Tower in New York City to announce his candidacy.

Other Republicans were less enthusiastic. Seven Senate Republicans joined Democrats in the vote to convict Saturday, and many who backed acquittal, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, nevertheless blamed Mr. Trump for the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The broken ranks in the Senate underscored the larger fissure in the Republican Party.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican, said his vote to convict Mr. Trump would likely become the “majority view” in his home state.

“I was elected to uphold an oath to support and defend the Constitution. The majority of the people in Louisiana want that to be the case,” Mr. Cassidy, who is not up for reelection until 2026, said on ABC’s “State of the Union.”

After Mr. Cassidy voted to convict Mr. Trump, the executive committee of the Republican Party of Louisiana voted unanimously to censure the senator.

Part of the balancing act for Republicans is keeping as many Trump voters as possible while pushing aside the movement’s more radical and conspiratorial elements, such as the QAnon Shaman with a horned hat who has become the face of the Jan. 6 riot, that have hurt the party’s brand.

“There needs to be some give from the GOP establishment, or this is going to get realy, really bad,” pollster Sean Trende said at a recent forum of the American Enterprise Institute.

Indeed, it has been a difficult dance on Capitol Hill, where newly elected House members have declared that their allegiance is to Mr. Trump, not the Republican Party.

“The party is his. It doesn’t belong to everybody else,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, a fierce Trump loyalist.

Democrats stripped Ms. Greene of committee assignments because of her past support of right-wing conspiracy theories.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, said Mr. Trump “remains the most popular Republican in the country.” But asked about a Trump candidacy in 2024, Mr. Rubio replied, “We’re talking about things that may never happen.”

Mr. Trump ultimately will have to answer the question of what happens next for the Republican Party.

Many Republicans hoped a clear result in the 2020 election — win or lose — would allow the party to present a unified front heading into 2022 and 2024. The pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol, some chanting “hang Mike Pence,” dashed those dreams.

In his statement from Florida after the verdict, Mr. Trump suggested that he is ready to mount a political comeback.

“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” Mr. Trump told supporters. “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. We have so much work ahead of us, and soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future.”

His eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., described a political landscape that is fertile for the former president’s reemergence.

“Great week. Trump beats impeachment. Dems in disarray,” the younger Mr. Trump posted on Twitter. “The Lincoln Project burnt to the ground. The RINOS in the GOP establishment exposed & collapsing. Cuomo & Dem Govs in free fall. The media depressed and lashing out at Dems for their impeachment fail. #MAGA ascending again!”

Even before the trial began, Trump allies were vowing to drive out of office Republicans who supported the impeachment, notably Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking House Republican leader.

But others in the party say Mr. Trump’s moment has passed. They point, for example, to his permanent ban by Twitter, where he regularly communicated with 80 million followers during his presidency.

“I think he’s going to find himself further and further isolated,” Nikki Haley, a former Trump ambassador to the United Nations, told Politico in an article published Friday. “I think his business is suffering at this point. I think he’s lost any sort of political viability he was going to have. I think he’s lost his social media, which meant the world to him. I mean, I think he’s lost the things that really could have kept him moving.”

Ms. Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, is planning to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, North Dakota Republican, voted to acquit Mr. Trump, but he said the former president has lost support in the party.

“He’s made it pretty difficult to gain support,” Mr. Cramer said after the verdict. “As you can tell, there’s some support that will never go away, but I think that is a shrinking population and probably shrinks a little bit after this week.”

⦁ Seth McLaughlin and Ryan Lovelace contributed to this report.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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