Image courtesy of Getty Images, Reuters.
By Shannon Rose Miekka
In only a matter of months, America’s political environment was permanently reshaped by the November election and its fallout: record breaking turnout despite a global health crisis, subsequent months of election fraud allegations and conspiracies, the January 6 attacks on the Capitol, and former President Trump’s second impeachment.
While Trump divided the Republican party long before the Capitol attacks, January’s events— and the various responses by key members of the party— have further illuminated and cemented the intraparty division within the GOP.
As a new administration begins, the aftershocks of Trump’s rise to power, administration, and failed reelection bid still remain. Here on out, the Republican party’s messaging is crucial when determining the future of the GOP. Was Trump an anomaly? Or will Trumpism outlive his presidency?
On January 21, Jeremy W. Peters published an article in the New York Times titled “The Three Types of Republicans Donald Trump Created,” outlining three categories of Republican officials.
Group 1: The Never Trumpers
“The Never Trumper Republicans, though on respirators with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our Country than the Do Nothing Democrats,” Trump tweeted in October 2019. “Watch out for them, they are human scum!”
Not long ago, “Never Trumpers” were considered the majority of the party, including his most loyal supporters present-day.
“Donald Trump can’t be trusted with common sense. Why would we trust him in the White House?” Senator Ted Cruz tweeted in 2016.
“If Donald Trump carries the banner of my party, it will taint conservatism for generations to come,” Senator Lindsey Graham, now a prominent player for Team Trump, said in 2016. “I think his campaign is opportunistic, race baiting, religious bigotry, xenophobia. Other than that, he’d be a good nominee.”
Over the last five years, the Never Trumpers have dwindled. Some say the party has evolved to fit Trumpism. Others believe Republicans have flipped in fear of retaliation by the former President and losing their seats.
“President Trump has a kind of hold on the Republican base or a large part of the base that nobody else in the party has and to reject him too openly is to risk that those people will be angry or won’t turn out for elections,” according to NPR correspondent Dave Davies.
Former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said that his Republican colleagues “fear Trump and his base and know he can take just about any one of them out… There’s a lot of fear, but no love.”
The remaining Never Trumpers stood in open defiance of their party’s leader by boycotting conventions, writing open-letters supporting impeachment, and raising millions in order to defeat Trump in 2020.
The list of prominent Republicans who endorsed Joe Biden was small but significant, including GOP powerhouses, presidential candidates, and even former Trump officials.
Only five sitting Republican senators claimed they would not vote for Trump, according to Senator Chris Coons (DE-D). Senator Mitt Romney has said he will not vote for Trump and may write-in his wife.
Romney is one of the most notable players of today’s Never Trump movement. In 2012, Romney gratefully accepted Trump’s endorsement in his race against President Obama. Eight years later, Romney called Trump “the 900lb gorilla when it comes to the Republican party”, and he was the only Republican who voted for Trump’s first impeachment.
Political organizations have kept the movement funded. George Conway made headlines last year when the husband of Trump’s then Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway, co-founded the Lincoln Project. In the three and a half months before the election, the Lincoln Project raised $67 million.
After the Capitol attacks, thousands of Republicans left the party and joined #NeverTrump.
Group 2: The New “RINOs”
A term often used in primary season to target candidates who are deemed too moderate, “RINO” stands for “Republican in Name Only.” Trump himself was considered a RINO in 2015 by his opponents in the GOP.
Even Lindsey Graham agreed: “I just really believe that the Republican Party has been conned here, and this guy is not a reliable conservative Republican.”
However, Donald Trump and his loyalists recently rebranded the term to isolate “any party official who dared to cross him.”
“A RINO may be the lowest form of human life,” Trump said at an October campaign rally in Arizona.
Once the 2020 election results were finalized, Trump began to weaponize the term against those who opposed his efforts to overturn Biden’s victory.
In December, Trump asked for the “Fake News Washington Post” to reveal the identities of the twenty-five anonymous Republican Congress members who accepted Biden’s win, again dubbing them RINOs.
After refusing to dismiss thousands of votes and overturn the election, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey were next.
Like the Never Trumpers, the “RINOS”, as Trump calls them, fear the possibility of being challenged by a Trump-picked candidate.
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, daughter of the former vice president, now faces a challenge to her leadership post in the House Republican conference for her impeachment vote against Trump.
“After four years of keeping most of their disagreements with Trump private, a growing number of Republicans have taken a stand against the nominal leader of their party,” Peters writes.
Group 3: Trump Republicans
The loyal members of Team Trump make up the final group. They comprise “the most vocal segment of elected Republicans.”
Lindsey Graham (who once wanted Trump kicked out of the party) represents the many Never Trumpers that— for reasons unknown— flipped their support.
As Trump refused to concede to Biden’s victory, the responses from the President’s own party were split, and his supporters drew a line in the sand.
Former President Trump spread disinformation of fraud and mistrust in the election process throughout his term. In October, while refusing to agree to a peaceful transfer of power, Trump claimed, “There won’t be a transfer, frankly there’ll be a continuation.”
The events on January 6 further illuminated the division within the party, and thousands of Republicans renounced their status.
But the voices of Trump Republicans were amplified.
Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) raises his fist toward the rioters. Source: AP Images.
Several Trumpists were present at the “March to Save America” rally, including former Mayor of New York City and personal attorney to the president Rudy Guiliani, who called for a “trial by combat” just moments before the riots ensued.
After five people died in the Capitol attacks, the Congressional verification reconvened, and 147 Republicans voted to overturn Biden’s victory on the evening of January 6.
The eight Senators who voted against verification of the election results were Tommy Tuberville (AL), Rick Scott (FL), Roger Marshall (KS), John Kennedy (LA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS), Josh Hawley (MO), Ted Cruz (TX), and Cynthia Lummis (WY). Senators Kelly Loeffler (GA), Steve Daines (MT), and Mike Braun (IN) flipped their vote after the attacks.
The following week, 200 representatives co-sponsored the second article of impeachment against Donald Trump. 201 of the 211 Republican Congress members stood behind the President and voted against.
Voices from within the CUA community
In his article, Peters argues that the future of the Republican Party is in the hands of the New RINOs and the Trump Republicans, because the Never Trumpers have “abandoned ship.” However, some argue that the party needs to distance itself from Trump in order to survive.
Members of the CUA community weighed on the future of the GOP.
“Donald Trump’s effect on the Republican party will be felt for generations to come,” said Blayne Clegg, the President of CUA College Republicans. “However, boiling it down to [Peters’ three groups] is an overly-simplistic way to look at the way the party is trending.”
“The future of the Republican Party rests in the hands of impassioned, young, racially diverse firebrands who are concerned with cultural issues, like nationalism and populism,” Clegg continued. “It will belong to folks who are willing and eager to stop playing by the political and cultural rules dictated by the Democratic party.”
On the other side of the aisle, CUA College Democrats Events Director Tyler Farrar said, “I do see a lot of fracture in the Republican Party at this time. My state for example [Vermont] has a beloved Republican Governor, but despises the former President. I think the Republicans will have to decide if it is more important for them to embrace Trumpism and the ultra conservative wing or the moderates who have in many ways been alienated in recent years.”
“If Trumpism continues to be the Republican norm I could… see the Democratic tent expanding to welcome some of these moderate Republicans,” Farrar added.
The future of the party
It is clear that the rise of Donald Trump has divided the Grand Old Party into at least two new factions: those who believe Trump represents the party and those who do not.
Minority Whip Liz Cheney, the third-highest ranking Republican in the House, was one of the 10 in her party to support January’s articles of impeachment, making it the most bipartisan impeachment vote in America’s history.
“There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” Cheney wrote on the evening of the attacks.
In contrast, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (who claimed on the House floor that the President had responsibility for the attacks) later defended Trump.
“Everybody across this country has some responsibility,” McCarthy said. “This president brought a lot of great success.”
The division among elected officials is clear, but what about the Republican electorate?
Even though Trump’s average approval rating was a record low 41%, the Former President still received 11 million more votes in November than he did in 2016.
Polling conducted by Politico from January 22-25 showed that 81% of Republican voters still viewed Trump favorably, even in the wake of insurrection attempts and impeachment. 50% still believe he should play a “major role” in the Republican Party going forward, a 9% increase since January 6.
When predicting the future of the party (and American politics as a whole), it is important to examine the generation that will inherit it. According to exit polls, only 31% of voters aged 18-24 supported Trump. Party support for Trump running in 2024 has dipped from 53% in November to 40% after the riots. Young conservatives hope for a new era now that Trump is out of office.
The 2020 election proved that Donald Trump was not an anomaly. He received more votes than almost every presidential candidate in American history, second only to current President Joe Biden. However, the path that the GOP will take in the wake of the Trump presidency is still unknown. It could return to its more traditional, less outwardly divisive roots, or it could double down on Trumpism for years to come.