ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial revealed a split within the Republican Party. Trump remains a dominant figure in the GOP, even though some party members want to put him in the past. Reports by Don Gonyea of NPR.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Republican infighting occurs at all levels – national, state, local. US Senator Lindsey Graham is one of Donald Trump’s most prominent and staunch supporters.
(Sound clip from the TV show, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”)
LINDSEY GRAHAM: In the Republican Party, if you want to win and stop a socialist agenda, we have to work with President Trump. We can’t do it without him.
GONYEA: Graham, who spoke on “Fox News Sunday,” reacted to GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, who opposed impeachment but still blamed Trump for the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Trump hit back in a statement calling McConnell, quote, a “no-smile political hack.” Graham says Republicans need Trump to win, but GOP Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who voted to condemn Trump, told NPR Trump was not a winner.
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BEN SASSE: And in a single term, the Republican Party lost the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate. This has not happened since Herbert Hoover was bombed in 1932.
GONYEA: Sasse, by the way, was censored by several GOP organizations in the county in its home state. Polls show that pro-Trump forces make up the vast majority of the GOP, putting both Sasse and Sasse at a disadvantage when it comes to influencing the party’s future course. University of Arkansas political scientist Janine Parry notes that the GOP may not be thinking so much about that long-term future because right now the party is in a really strong state-level position. . Currently, Republicans have full control of the legislature and governance in 23 states, compared to just 15 for Democrats.
JANINE PARRY: It’s all part of the hyperpolarization that’s happening nationwide.
GONYEA: Parry says the GOP’s state-level advantage gives them a head start in things like redistributing and drafting laws governing electoral rules, both of which can help win elections. And she says, don’t overlook the intense loyalty of the Trump base. For a Republican, to oppose Trump is to face a backlash that could well include a challenger in the next primary.
PARRY: If you’re going to break away from the Trump brand, Trump might not even need to sue you. But Trump’s voters and other Trump allies might come looking for you on their own.
GONYEA: Another thing Donald Trump has done over the past four years has been to consolidate his control over GOP organizations across the country. And these groups are mobilizing to defend it. In Pennsylvania, the Washington County GOP voted to censor Republican Senator Pat Toomey for his vote to convict Trump in the impeachment trial. David Ball is the county party chairman. He spoke to KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh.
(SOUND PRESENTATION OF THE ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DAVID BALL: We didn’t send him there to vote his conscience. We didn’t send him there to do the right thing or what he said he was doing. We sent him there to represent us.
GONYEA: But watching it all in Erie County, Pennsylvania is a moderate Republican Senator named Dan Laughlin. He says the party’s future is not to tie up with Donald Trump, but he keeps his criticisms of Trump somewhat suppressed. Laughlin says Republicans need to focus more on the day-to-day needs of their constituents.
DAN LAUGHLIN: As a country, we need to get back to the center of politics where we can get along with respect and have a civil discourse without getting mad at each other. This is what I think America needs right now.
GONYEA: But right now the Republican Party, which proudly appears to be Trump’s party, is far from ready to heed that advice.
Don Gonyea, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative recording of NPR’s programming is the audio recording.
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