Former President Donald Trump is not attempting to form a “Patriot Party” to challenge establishment Republicans, but he might pursue that option if Senate Republicans vote to convict him in an impeachment trial, a senior Trump adviser said Thursday.
Jason Miller, a top official in Mr. Trump‘s 2020 reelection campaign, said forming a third-party “might be the only path forward for President Trump with regard to electoral politics or with regard to staying active” if Republican senators turn against him in the impeachment.
“There’s nothing that’s in process or moving ahead,” Mr. Miller told “Just the News” host Carrie Sheffield. Mr. Trump “very much wants to win back the House and Senate for Republicans, but we need Senate Republicans to do the right thing.”
Senate Democrats are aiming to hold Mr. Trump‘s impeachment trial next week on a charge of inciting the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, wants to delay a trial until February.
Mr. Trump has selected South Carolina attorney Butch Bowers to represent him in the trial, Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, reportedly told colleagues in a private conference call Thursday. Mr. Bowers has represented the South Carolina GOP and former Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.
If all 50 Senate Democrats vote to convict Mr. Trump, they would need at least 17 Republicans to convict Mr. Trump and then bar him from ever holding federal office again.
Republicans are very concerned about a backlash from Trump supporters, either through primary challenges or a breakaway party loyal to the former president.
“I think a third-party movement would destroy conservatism,” Mr. Graham told reporters Thursday. “I think if there was an effort to break away and form a new party, that would be a dream scenario for liberal Democrats, because if we do that, that’s the end of effectively having conservative voices.”
The Trump team commissioned a poll last week from Trump pollster John McLaughlin to find out how the impeachment effort is viewed in battleground states. The survey found that 60% of voters saw impeachment as a waste of time, while 40% want the Senate to go forward with a trial of Mr. Trump. And 80% of Trump voters, and 76% of all Republicans, said they would be less likely to vote for a Republican lawmaker who supports impeachment.
Mr. Miller, who flew on Air Force One with Mr. Trump to Florida on Wednesday as his term ended, said the former president “is still the biggest microphone in American politics.”
“I think it’s a real warning to Republican senators that might be getting wobbly [on impeachment], that the Republicans back home in their districts will have something to say about it,” he told Ms. Sheffield.
In another possible indication of that dynamic, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, on Thursday backed away from his comments last week blaming Mr. Trump for the riot at the Capitol.
Asked whether he thinks Mr. Trump incited a massive crowd of supporters in Washington just before the riot, Mr. McCarthy replied, “I don’t believe he provoked, if you listen to what he said at the rally.”
The House Republican leader said he expects Mr. Trump to remain active in the GOP.
“Every former president still has a role within their party,” he told reporters. “This president brought a lot of great success he brought people to the party that hadn’t been involved in it before and he should continue to engage in that way. The one thing we learned in the last four years of President Trump [was] that he listened to voices that no one else was hearing in either party.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t sent the article of the impeachment yet to the Senate, a necessary step to beginning a trial. But Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York reiterated Thursday that there will be a trial.
“Make no mistake about it — there will be a trial, there will be a vote, up or down, on whether to convict the president. I believe he should be convicted,” Mr. Schumer said.
President Biden hasn’t tried to intervene in Democrats’ plans to put Mr. Trump on trial. Mr. Miller said Mr. Trump‘s legal team and his supporters in the GOP should use the trial against Mr. Biden.
“We are going to see the partisan nature of the Democrats in the Senate right now,” he said. “Ultimately, I think — as Republicans, as conservatives, the supporters of President Trump — we have to make this about Joe Biden. Joe Biden wants to drag this out and have it happen on his watch. He needs to own it.”