Former President Donald Trump is behaving like he never left office.
Out of power for more than a week, Mr. Trump has created an “Office of the Former President,” staffed with former White House aides to “advance the interests of the United States and to carry on the agenda” of his administration.
He is handing out political endorsements. He has backed Kelli Ward for a second term as chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party (she won) and former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for governor of Arkansas in 2022. Still cut off from social media, Mr. Trump released the statement endorsing Mrs. Sanders through his new political action committee, Save America.
A top Trump official, former Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought, announced Tuesday the formation of two more organizations to keep driving the momentum of the Trump agenda.
“A restoration is coming. Join us,” he wrote in The Federalist.
Just as he did in office, Mr. Trump is delivering unsubtle warnings to Republican senators that he will ruin them politically if they vote for his conviction next month.
The former president also is monitoring closely which Republicans are still with him, as Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota can attest.
Mr. Cramer was at home Saturday when he received what he termed a “strategic” phone call from Brian Jack, who was a White House political director under Mr. Trump. Mr. Jack told the senator that he had just spoken with Mr. Trump.
“The president wanted me to just express again his gratitude for your support over the years,” Mr. Jack said, according to the senator.
The Trump aide never mentioned the upcoming impeachment trial. Instead, he said Mr. Trump wanted to tamp down rumors that he was planning to form a breakaway third party to challenge Republicans who oppose him.
“The main reason for the call was to make sure I knew from him that he’s not starting a third party, and if I’d be helpful in squashing any rumors that he was starting a third party, and that his political activism or whatever role he would play going forward would be with the Republican Party, not as a third party,” Mr. Cramer told reporters Tuesday. “Now, of course, that means different things to different people, I suppose.”
The senator, who has criticized Mr. Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol that sparked his impeachment by the House, said he was “grateful” for the phone call and found it “comforting.”
“I was happy to spread the message,” he said. “For sure, I’ve gotten plenty of blowback back home for not being sufficiently loyal to Donald Trump, and it does seem a bit crazy.”
The consequences for opposing Mr. Trump are as real as ever. House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming faces intensifying calls for her removal from party leadership, including a visit to her state Thursday by a Trump loyalist, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.
In Arizona, at the direction of Mr. Trump’s endorsed party leader, the state Republican Party on Saturday censured Trump opponents Gov. Doug Ducey, former Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, all Republicans.
Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said most Republicans eventually will reunite around Mr. Trump’s policies.
“I want to make sure that the Republican Party can grow and come back, and we’re going to need Trump and Trump needs us,” Mr. Graham said. “I think the best thing for us is to keep the Trump policy movement alive.”
Democrats are on high alert over Mr. Trump’s influence. The House Democrats’ campaign arm on Tuesday sent a fundraising email, under the name of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, warning of the threat posed by the former president.
“Donald Trump’s team just announced he’s sitting on a $70 MILLION war chest — and he plans to use every cent to elect pro-Trump Republicans up and down the ballot,” Mrs. Pelosi stated. “I refuse to let this one-term president undermine our Democrats just days into the Biden-Harris Administration.”
Although Mr. Trump hasn’t decided whether to run for office again, advisers say he is planning to lead an effort pushing state legislatures to reform election rules to limit mail-in balloting. Mr. Trump has argued that expanded vote-by-mail options in key states during the COVID-19 pandemic led to fraud that cost him the election.
“He understands that we have to get away from unsolicited vote-by-mail efforts and back to historical norms of in-person voting,” a former senior Trump administration official said Tuesday.
Mr. Trump had the support of 87% of Republicans in an NBC News poll released Jan. 17, virtually the same level as before the November election.
In another sign of the fervor for Mr. Trump, the Oregon Republican Party approved a resolution Jan. 19 condemning the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him. The Oregon party even called the Capitol riot a “false flag” operation seeking to discredit Republicans.
In a statement, the state party said the situation drew “a frightening parallel to the February 1933 burning of the German Reichstag.”
“The record shows that President Trump in no way incited the violence which actually started 20 minutes before the president finished his remarks far from the Capitol building itself,” the state party said.
Republican senators are increasingly voicing opposition to the impeachment trial, another sign of Mr. Trump’s strength across the country. Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas was one of only three Republicans on the Senate floor Monday night when the Democratic House impeachment managers delivered the article of impeachment to start the trial process.
“It was much more emotional than I thought it would be,” Mr. Marshall told reporters. “As I sat there and listened to the articles of impeachment being read, it just struck me that the hatred that some people have towards President Trump, and how emotional it was for them, that they were down to this emotional level, and not doing what I think is responsible, which is to say: Look, the president has already left [office], and this is unconstitutional what they’re doing.”
In a test vote Tuesday, 45 Republican senators signaled that trying a former president is unconstitutional. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said that means the impeachment trial is “dead on arrival.”
Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the vote showed “the Democrats’ ridiculous impeachment of former President Trump will fail — again — by a long shot.” He praised the 45 Republican senators “for standing up” against it.
Mr. Graham, who spoke with Mr. Trump on Monday night, said the former president is “decompressing” at his resort home in Florida.
“He’s got a legal team he’s trying to organize, and he just needs to keep doing what he’s doing and the trial will be over in a couple of weeks,” Mr. Graham said.
In his essay, Mr. Vought announced the formation of two pro-Trump organizations that will help to frame the ideology of the Republican Party in terms friendly to Mr. Trump’s political movement. The Center for American Restoration and an advocacy arm, America Restoration Action, will aim to keep issues of Mr. Trump’s “America First” agenda in the public spotlight.
Writing for The Federalist, Mr. Vought called Mr. Trump’s presidency “the first real counter assault to the left in decades, by a champion who had the stomach and the strength to sustain the withering fire of his adversaries. This explains the lengths to which the left went to destroy his presidency and his movement.”
“To those asking where we go from here, there must be one conclusion from the right: The counter assault must be sustained. There is no going back,” Mr. Vought wrote. “The call for unity must not become an excuse for surrender.”