Trump’s ideas flourish among state and local Republicans
In Cleveland County, Oklahoma, the local Republican Party chairman openly questioned “why violence is unacceptable” just hours before a mob stormed the United States Capitol last week . “What was the American Revolution? He posted on Facebook. “A portion of friggin galette?” “
Two days later, the Republican President of Nye County in Nevada posted a letter filled with conspiracy theories on the local committee website, accusing Vice President Mike Pence of treason and calling the riots a “misplaced event. on stage intended to blame Trump supporters “.
And this week in Virginia, Amanda Chase, a two-term Republican senator running for governor, argued that President Trump could still be sworn in for a second term on January 20 and that Republicans who block this “alternative plan” would be sworn in. punished for supporters of the president.
“They have Mitch McConnell over there selling the Republican Party,” Ms. Chase, who spoke at the demonstration in Washington last week, said in an interview. “The insurgency is actually the deep state with politicians working against the people to overthrow our government.”
As Mr. Trump prepares to leave the White House and facing a second impeachment trial in the Senate, his ideas continue to exert a gravitational force in Republican circles across the country. The lies, white nationalism and baseless conspiracy theories he peddled for four years took root at the party’s base, adopted by activists, local leaders and elected officials even as a handful of Republicans in Congress break with the president in the last hour.
Interviews with more than 40 Republican and local leaders conducted after the siege of the Capitol show that a noisy wing of the party maintains a quasi-religious devotion to the president, and that these supporters do not hold him responsible for the mob violence last week. The opposition that has manifested itself towards him among certain Republicans has only strengthened their support for him.
And while some Republican leaders and strategists are eager to dismiss these loyalists as a marginal part of their party, many of them occupy influential roles at the state and local levels. These local officials are not only intermediaries between voters and federal Republicans, but they also serve as the next generation of high-level elected officials in the party, and would bring devotion to Trumpism if they ascend Washington.
Continued support for the president will likely maintain Mr. Trump’s influence long after he leaves office. This could hamper the party’s ability to unify and reshape its platform to help attract moderate voters from the suburbs who play a decisive role in winning battlefield states and presidential elections.
At the same time, stepping away from the president could cost the party its supporters – millions of new working class voters who helped Mr. Trump win more votes than any other Republican presidential candidate in history.
“It’s the No.1 priority to retain Trump voters,” said Harmeet Dhillon, a member of the California RNC. “There’s no way to do it with a quick change, veering in a different direction. Voters expect the party to continue and stay the course.”
A Axios-Ipsos survey released Thursday showed a majority of Republicans support the president’s recent behavior and say he is expected to be the Republican nominee in 2024.
Already, some of the Trump wing are threatening the main challenges of Republicans deemed insufficiently loyal to the president and fierce opposition to any Republican who works with the new Biden administration. With Mr. Trump excluded from leading social media platforms, they are diving into right-wing media and waiting for new conservative social media platforms to be put in place, according to many.
“The party is definitely with Trump,” said Debbie Dooley, a conservative activist in Georgia. “I see anger, but it’s a bit nuanced. There are people who are more angry with those Republicans who turned their backs on Trump than they are with the Democrats. “
It was obvious soon after 10 Republicans joined Democrats in backing impeachment Wednesday. Hours after the vote, Drew McKissick, the chairman of the Republican Party of South Carolina, blasted a statement attacking Representative Tom Rice, a Republican in his state who had supported impeachment.
“We completely disagree with this sham and to say that I am gravely disappointed with Congressman Tom Rice would be an understatement,” McKissick said.
Several House Republicans also called on Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a leading impeachment voice, to step down from her leadership position in the party caucus.
Anthony Sabatini, a Florida state official, described Ms. Cheney and other Republicans who voted for impeachment as “artifacts,” saying they were out of step with a party that adopted a platform. more populist opposed to foreign intervention and skeptical of free trade.
“She’s like a fossil,” he said of Ms. Cheney. “The party is completely and totally realigned. Mitt Romney wouldn’t win in a primary today. He couldn’t be elected dog catcher today.
For years, opponents of Mr. Trump have argued that he would lose his grip on the party after a devastating event – like unrest or violence that shocked the nation. The Capitol violation last week appears to have provided this opportunity for Republicans who wish to refocus the party around Mr. Trump’s policies and dispense with the polarizing language and divisive actions that marked his four years in office.
“In this world, I think there is a lot of room for the Republican Party,” said Juliana Bergeron, RNC New Hampshire member. “I’m not sure there is room for Donald Trump’s Republican Party.”
But for many local officials, the Capitol episode wasn’t the inflection point some Washington Republicans thought it would be.
“No, Trump has no blame, but Democrats certainly do, and all the Republicans who follow them,” said Billy Long, Chairman of the Republican Party in Bayfield County, Wisconsin, who said he planned to go their separate ways. of the GOP to start a local Trump-centric third party. “The Trump movement is not over; as Trump himself said, we are just getting started.
Republican voters also largely drew a sharp distinction between the president and those who stormed Capitol Hill, with 80% saying they do not hold Mr. Trump responsible for the riots and 73% saying he protects democracy, according to a survey released by Quinnipiac University this week.
Even in blue states, Republican leaders still find themselves grappling with Mr. Trump’s grievance policy. In the New Jersey State Senate, Republicans were divided over a resolution condemning Mr. Trump for inciting the mob that attacked the Capitol. The majority of Republicans chose to abstain, and many used their time in the field to try to tip the debate over to anti-racial injustice protests over the summer, and had to be reprimanded by the president of the Senate for deviating from the subject.
Even if Mr. Trump is withdrawing from political life, losing his megaphone on social networks and his chair as a bully, his supporters say his message will be carried by a party remade in his image and with strong structural support to all levels.
Since Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016, 91 of 168 Republican National Committee positions have changed, with virtually all of the newcomers elected by Trump-aligned state parties.
President received a lot of praise at a national party meeting held two days after the siege, and was greeted with applause when he called a breakfast.
Already, battle lines are drawn between the Trump wing and those who would like to overtake the president.
Efforts to issue primary challenges to incumbent Republicans are underway in several states, with encouragement from Mr. Trump. In Georgia, potential primary candidates are reaching out to conservative activists to challenge the Republican governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state. Other targets could include Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio and Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John Thune of South Dakota.
“The election was twisted and Republicans who could have done something did very little,” said Dave Wesener, Republican Party chairman in Crawford County, Wisconsin. “These Republicans who did not support, I affectionately call RINO. All RINOs should be prioritized by conservatives.
Mr Wesener plans to relinquish his role in the local Republican Party next month to demonstrate his disappointment that the party did not fight harder to overturn the election results. He also plans to give up his season tickets to the Green Bay Packers, to protest the racial justice slogans painting on its original land.
In Virginia, Ms. Chase is likely to face a multi-candidate Republican field for governor, which will be decided at a party activists convention this summer. Although state GOP officials chose to avoid a primary in hopes of denying Ms Chase their nomination at a convention, the party’s activist base is filled with Mr. Trump’s most staunch supporters.
“I was called Trump in heels,” Ms. Chase said. “The regular base in Virginia who is not part of the elite of the Republican establishment, she supports me.”
The Capitol siege last week drew an even clearer line to divide the party. State lawmakers from more than a dozen states attended the protest, at least one of which faces criminal charges for violating the Capitol in connection with the riot. Meshawn Maddock, an activist who is set to be the new Michigan Republican Party co-chair, helped organize buses full of supporters from her state to the Capitol. In the days following the violence, she joined a conservative online group where some participants openly discussed civil war and martial law.
Many continue to defend their role in the event.
“Those who dominate Congress today look at much of the country with disdain. Trump never did that, ”said Alaska State Representative David Eastman, who attended the protest. “I, along with nearly a million other Americans, was happy to travel to Washington to hear the president speak and thank him for his four years in office. Members of today’s ruling class will never fully understand why.
Nick Corasaniti contributed reporting.