Two very different interviews on Sunday morning news broadcasts illustrated the Republican Party’s acquittal crisis after Trump.
After Trump stepped down from office, was banned from social media and has just completed a process in which a bipartisan majority of senators voted in favor of his condemnation, the Republican Party is polarized.
Some Republicans want to try to finally push the party past Trumpism and his anti-democratic impulses, while others – perhaps in light of Trump’s continued influence on the GOP base – are using his acquittal as an opportunity to put their arms around him.
On Sunday, the anti-Trump faction was represented by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA). After four years of loyalty to Trump, Cassidy surprisingly joined six other Republican senators on Saturday and voted for Trump’s impeachment trial accusing him of instigating the January 6 riot. And while Cassidy has already been censored by the Louisiana Republican Party for crossing the former president, he stated in an interview on ABC’s This Week that he has no regrets.
“I think I can already hold a majority view,” said Cassidy, downplaying the criticism. “I voted to support and defend the Constitution … the Republican Party is more than just a person.”
Although Senator Cassidy (R) has already been censored by the LAGOP, he doesn’t regret voting for Trump’s conviction: “I can already represent a majority … [but] I voted to support and defend the Constitution … the Republican Party is more than just a person. “Pic.twitter.com/y0dlBqpMVx
– Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 14, 2021
On the pro-Trump side is Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Graham was one of Trump’s most loyal supporters during his tenure, but that changed temporarily after the January 6 uprising when Graham gave a speech distancing himself from Trump.
“Count me out. Enough is enough.” Graham said.
Graham was quick to reflect on this stance, traveling with Trump on his last trip as president and shamelessly defending Trump on television.
If Graham’s Sunday morning appearance on Fox News Sunday is any indication, his loyalty to the former president is stronger than ever.
“Donald Trump is the liveliest member of the Republican Party,” said Graham, distancing himself from comments from former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley that Trump had no future in the GOP. “The Trump movement is alive and well … all I can say is that the strongest force in the Republican Party is President Trump.”
These comments came at the end of an interview that began with Graham, which suggested that Republicans would go so far as to get revenge for Trump’s second impeachment by indicting Vice President Kamala Harris if they retook the house next year.
Both Cassidy and Graham were comfortably re-elected to a new six-year term last November, but each legislature uses its mandate differently at a moment when principles and policies are tense in the GOP.
Cassidy is using his job security to distance himself from a president he sees as a violation of his oath of office, but Graham seems to be calculating that Trumpism is the Republican Party’s best choice to retake one or both houses of Congress next year.
This was made clear towards the end of Graham’s recent interview with Fox News, when he basically advocated Lara Trump – Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law – to occupy a seat in the North Carolina Senate vacated by Senator Richard Burr in 2022, who was also surprising was joined by Cassidy in the camp of former Trump loyalists who voted to condemn Trump.
“North Carolina, I think the biggest winner in this entire impeachment process is Lara Trump,” said Graham. “My dear friend Richard Burr, whom I like and who has long been friends, made Lara Trump almost a sure-fire candidate for the Senate seat in North Carolina to replace him if she runs. And I will definitely stand with her because I think she represents the future of the Republican Party. “
A third Republican – Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who has outright criticized Trump – argued on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday morning that Cassidy’s stand should be the party’s future.
“I think the final chapter of Donald Trump and Where the Republican Party is going is not yet written and I think we will have a real battle for the soul of the Republican Party in the next few years,” Hogan said. “Are we going to be a party that can no longer win national elections, that loses the presidency, the House and the Senate in four years?”
Hogan rightly points out that this is how Republicans lost power in the two election cycles following Trump’s 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton, often serving as a reprimand for the broader appeal of Trumpism. But the former president is still very popular with the GOP base. Polls conducted shortly before the second impeachment trial found that Trump still had a approval rating among Republicans in the 1980s.
While Cassidy’s advocacy of democracy is laudable and Hogan’s optimism noteworthy, it is an open question whether there is a place for people like her within a party that is so involved in Trump’s authoritarian attempt.