WASHINGTON (AP) – Donald Trump and his supporters are stepping up efforts to shame – and potentially remove – members of their party who are considered disloyal to the former president and his false claims that last year’s election was stolen from him.
On Capitol Hill, rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in Parliament, losing her leadership amid her increasingly public dispute with Trump. In Utah, Senator Mitt Romney, a rare Trump enemy of the GOP, stood over the unworthiness over the weekend by reminding a bubbling crowd that he was once their president. And in Texas, the only overtly anti-Trump Republican in a crowded special election for a congressional seat finished a meager 9th place.
Trump left office nearly four months ago with his reputation severely damaged after a mob of his supporters led a deadly uprising at the U.S. Capitol to prevent certification of election results. But recent developments suggest a resurgence of his political fortunes, with those who refuse to go along with his lie on the defensive.
Trump’s grip on the party may only tighten in the coming days.
If he added his press releases, his powerful Facebook account could be reinstated this week if a quasi-independent supervisory board makes a decision in his favor. Meanwhile, Republicans in Virginia will decide whether to nominate a vocal Trump supporter as governor in one of the few marker elections on the calendar this year.
An important signal about the party’s direction may come on Capitol Hill, where Cheney’s future is in doubt.
The Wyoming congresswoman, the oldest Republican calling for Trump’s indictment, has insisted the party must reject the former president’s lie that the election was somehow stolen. There is no evidence to support Trump’s allegations of mass election fraud, and several auditors, Republican state election officials and Trump’s own lawyer have said the election was fair.
But Trump has stuck to his story and issued a “proclamation” Monday to try to co-opt the language his enemies use to stamp his fake.
“The fraudulent presidential election in 2020 will from this day on be known as THE GREAT EQUALITY!” he wrote.
Cheney, who has not even ruled out a race in 2024, fired back.
“The presidential election in 2020 was not stolen. Anyone who claims that it was, spreads THE BIG LIE, turns its back on the rule of law and poisons our democratic system, ”she tweeted.
It is clear that she does not intend to scale down her criticism, even though she is facing the possibility of losing her leadership.
Cheney survived an earlier attempt to remove her from leadership, but it could be different this time. GOP leader Kevin McCarthy stood by her earlier this year, but he has refused to defend her from the final round of attacks as he faces conservatives reluctant for her removal. It’s a sign of McCarthy’s own calculations as he works to stay close to Trump, while also trying to expand a wider tent to help his party win parliamentary elections.
While the pro-Trump Republican votes on Capitol Hill far outweigh his party critics, opponents should not be fired.
A total of 10 House Republicans voted to accuse Trump of inspiring the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and seven Republicans from the Senate voted to judge. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted to acquit Trump, but chastised the former president publicly and has privately urged the party to move forward.
That is another calculation for rank-and-file members of Congress, especially those representing strongly Republican areas, where approx. 8 out of 10 party supporters typically approve of Trump. Among party activists and grassroots voters, this number is thought to be much higher.
It is still too early to draw any concrete conclusions about Trump’s success so far this year. Some Republican strategists privately suggest that there are real signs that the former president’s strength with voters and elected officials has begun to wane.
“He’s becoming less relevant with each passing day, but among those who still listen to him, he’s more relevant than ever,” said veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz. “He still means something. He is going to mean something in months and even years, but as time goes on, he means less and less. ”
So far, the former reality TV celebrity seems to be enjoying the ride.
“So nice to see RINO Mitt Romney bow off the stage at the Republican State Convention in Utah,” Trump shouted in a series of celebratory statements Monday, praising the Texas results and the criticism of Cheney and Romney. “RINO” means “Republican only in name.”
In Utah over the weekend, a voluminous Republican had rained salaries on Romney before unsuccessfully trying to censor him to support Trump’s accusation.
“Show respect,” the spectators were reprimanded by the chairman of the state party. Romney reminded them that he was a lifetime conservative and their presidential candidate in 2012 – and told them that Republicans would only hurt themselves by attacking each other.
“If we divide our party, we will be a losing party,” he said.
In Texas, congressional candidate Wood, a 34-year-old former Marine and two-time Purple Heart recipient, has lost committal to a handful of prominent anti-Trump Republicans, including Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Cheney, who had donated to Woods’ campaign and offered moral support.
He said Monday that there is a real urgency for anti-Trump Republicans to unite against him.
“This can not just be individuals pushing back. We need to organize and show the public that you can be a good Republican and not buy all that BS, ”Wood said. “This match is not won with podcasts and op-eds.”
Mike DuHaime, a Republican top strategist, said the party is still struggling with its identity after Trump, but argued that it would be better positioned going forward if it included conservatives like Cheney and Romney.
“There are people who play for the voters’ base, which is very passionate and believes in the big lie about the election. And it seems to be winning a primary election for Congress, Senate or Governor or even President. “But he warned: ‘If we focus only on that, it will not be successful enough in the parliamentary elections to win back the majority.’
“We have to put this behind us at some point if we want to succeed in a parliamentary election.”
People reported from New York. Associated Press author Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.