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GOP Unwilling to Part With Trump       01/27 06:10

   Donald Trump has lost his social media megaphone, the power of government 
and the unequivocal support of his party's elected leaders. But a week after 
leaving the White House in disgrace, a large-scale Republican defection that 
would ultimately purge him from the party appears unlikely.

   PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Donald Trump has lost his social media megaphone, 
the power of government and the unequivocal support of his party's elected 
leaders. But a week after leaving the White House in disgrace, a large-scale 
Republican defection that would ultimately purge him from the party appears 
unlikely.

   Many Republicans refuse to publicly defend Trump's role in sparking the 
deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. But as the Senate prepares for an 
impeachment trial for Trump's incitement of the riot, few seem willing to hold 
the former president accountable.

   After House Republicans who backed his impeachment found themselves facing 
intense backlash --- and Trump's lieutenants signaled the same fate would meet 
others who joined them --- Senate Republicans voted overwhelmingly Tuesday for 
an attempt to dismiss his second impeachment trial. Only five Republican 
senators rejected the challenge to the trial.

   Trump's conviction was considered a real possibility just days ago after 
lawmakers whose lives were threatened by the mob weighed the appropriate 
consequences --- and the future of their party. But the Senate vote on Tuesday 
is a sign that while Trump may be held in low regard in Washington following 
the riots, a large swath of Republicans is leery of crossing his supporters, 
who remain the majority of the party's voters.

   "The political winds within the Republican Party have blown in the opposite 
direction," said Ralph Reed, chair of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a 
Trump ally. "Republicans have decided that even if one believes he made 
mistakes after the November election and on Jan. 6, the policies Trump 
championed and victories he won from judges to regulatory rollback to life to 
tax cuts were too great to allow the party to leave him on the battlefield."

   The vote came after Trump, who decamped last week to his private Mar-a-Lago 
club in Palm Beach, Florida, began wading back into politics between rounds of 
golf. He took an early step into the Arkansas governor's race by endorsing 
former White House aide Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and backed Kelli Ward, an ally 
who won reelection as chair of Arizona's Republican Party after his endorsement.

   At the same time, Trump's team has given allies an informal blessing to 
campaign against the 10 House Republicans who voted in favor of impeachment.

   After Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer backed impeachment, Republican Tom Norton 
announced a primary challenge. Norton appeared on longtime Trump adviser Steve 
Bannon's podcast in a bid to raise campaign contributions.

   On Thursday, another Trump loyalist, Rep. Matt Gaetz, plans to travel to 
Wyoming to condemn home-state Rep. Liz Cheney, a House GOP leader who said 
after the Capitol riot that "there has never been a greater betrayal by a 
president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution."

   Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. --- a star with Trump's loyal base ---- 
has encouraged Gaetz on social media and embraced calls for Cheney's removal 
from House leadership.

   Trump remains livid with Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, who refused 
to support Trump's false charges that Georgia's elections were fraudulent. Kemp 
is up for reelection in 2022, and Trump has suggested former Rep. Doug Collins 
run against him.

   Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman's decision not to seek reelection in 2022 
opens the door for Rep. Jim Jordan, one of Trump's most enthusiastic 
supporters, to seek the seat. Several other Republicans, some far less 
supportive of the former president, are also considering running.

   Trump's continued involvement in national politics so soon after his 
departure marks a dramatic break from past presidents, who typically stepped 
out of the spotlight, at least temporarily. Former President Barack Obama was 
famously seen kitesurfing on vacation with billionaire Richard Branson shortly 
after he left office, and former President George W. Bush took up painting.

   Trump, who craves the media spotlight, was never expected to burrow out of 
public view.

   "We will be back in some form," he told supporters at a farewell event 
before he left for Florida. But exactly what form that will take is a work in 
progress.

   Trump remains deeply popular among Republican voters and is sitting on a 
huge pot of cash --- well over $50 million --- that he could use to prop up 
primary challenges against Republicans who backed his impeachment or refused to 
support his failed efforts to challenge the election results using bogus 
allegations of mass voter fraud in states like Georgia.

   "POTUS told me after the election that he's going to be very involved," said 
Matt Schlapp, the chair of the American Conservative Union. "I think he's going 
to stay engaged. He's going to keep communicating. He's going to keep 
expressing his opinions. I, for one, think that's great, and I encouraged him 
to do that."

   Aides say he also intends to dedicate himself to winning back the House and 
Senate for Republicans in 2022. But for now, they say their sights are on the 
trial.

   "We're getting ready for an impeachment trial --- that's really the focus," 
said Trump adviser Jason Miller.

   Trump aides have also spent recent days trying to assure Republicans that he 
is not currently planning to launch a third party --- an idea he has floated 
--- and will instead focus on using his clout in the Republican Party.

   Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said he received a call from Brian Jack, the 
former White House political director, on Saturday at home to assure him that 
Trump had no plans for defection.

   "The main reason for the call was to make sure I knew from him that he's not 
starting a third party and if I would be helpful in squashing any rumors that 
he was starting a third party. And that his political activism or whatever role 
he would play going forward would be with the Republican Party, not as a third 
party," Cramer said.

   The calls were first reported by Politico.

   But the stakes remain high for Trump, whose legacy is a point of fierce 
contention in a Republican Party that is grappling with its identity after 
losing the White House and both chambers of Congress. Just three weeks after a 
pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, Trump's political standing among Republican 
leaders in Washington remains low.

   "I don't know whether he incited it, but he was part of the problem, put it 
that way," said Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a strong Trump supporter, when 
asked about the Capitol siege and the related impeachment trial.

   Tuberville did not say whether he would personally defend Trump in the 
trial, but he downplayed the prospect of negative consequences for those 
Republican senators who ultimately vote to convict him.

   "I don't think there'll be any repercussions," Tuberville said. "People are 
going to vote how they feel anyway."

   Trump maintains a strong base of support within the Republican National 
Committee and in state party leadership, but even there, Republican officials 
have dared to speak out against him in recent days in ways they did not before.

   In Arizona, Ward, who had Trump's backing, was only narrowly reelected over 
the weekend, even as the party voted to censure a handful of Trump's Republican 
critics, including former Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, the widow of Sen. 
John McCain.

   At the same time, Trump's prospective impeachment sparked a bitter feud 
within the RNC.

   In a private email exchange obtained by The Associated Press, RNC member 
Demetra DeMonte of Illinois proposed a resolution calling on every Republican 
senator to oppose what she called an "unconstitutional sham impeachment trial, 
motivated by a radical and reckless Democrat majority."

   Bill Palatucci, a Republican committeeman from New Jersey, slapped back.

   "His act of insurrection was an attack on our very democracy and deserves 
impeachment," Palatucci wrote.

 
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