Immediately following the deadly Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill, several leaders and prominent figures in his own party wanted to ditch President Donald Trump, blame him for inciting the mob, or at least move on from him. It took less than a month for almost all of the official GOP to start crawling back to him.
GOP bigwigs who were, very briefly, prepared to throw Trump onto the ash heap of history following his primary role in sparking the MAGA riot and for helping the Republican Party lose the presidency and both houses of Congress are now beginning to shield the ex-president, once again, from his liberal foes. Top Republican lawmakers are increasingly signaling that they are ready to let Trump off the hook yet another time, and the former president has been working the phones from his new home base in Florida in an effort to make sure GOP senators vote to acquit him in an upcoming impeachment trial.
“He's very interested in the outcome of the trial and I talked to him yesterday, and I told him the vote yesterday is a sign of things to come,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a close Trump ally, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
Graham was referring to a Tuesday vote for which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) sided with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on a measure declaring Senate impeachment proceedings against an ex-president to be unconstitutional. Earlier this month, McConnell had publicly blamed Trump for “provok[ing]” the anti-democratic rioting, and had left open the possibility of voting to convict him in a potential trial.
“I said [to Trump] there will be a motion to dismiss [the impeachment trial], I think on the 8th. We need 51 to dismiss the case. I was stressing to [Trump] that we're most likely not going to get that, but we are going to get more than enough for an acquittal,” Graham said. (It would take 67 senators to convict the former president.) “Getting 51 votes on a motion to dismiss will probably be very difficult…He's in the mindset of [concluding the trial] sooner rather than later…I've been saying this for a long time: there's no appetite on our side for this trial.”
Graham himself had said on the floor of the U.S. Senate mere hours after the Jan. 6 pro-Trump violence that “Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey,” but “all I can say is count me out. Enough is enough.” This week, he remains a top Trump confidant, helped form the former president’s new legal defense, and is still on the phone with him regularly.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made a similar journey. Like many other powerful Republicans, he had cheered on the Trump crusade to challenge or nullify Joe Biden’s decisive victory in the 2020 presidential election. But after the Capitol riot, he had what was described as a “tense” and “aggressive” phone conversation with the then-president, pushing back on some of Trump’s ludicrous conspiracy theories and telling him, “Stop it. It's over. The election is over.”
But that was in the distant past, two whole weeks ago. Now, McCarthy is making nice with the former president—and his family, too. Days after his argument with Donald Trump, McCarthy got on the phone with Donald Trump Jr. Both sides of the conversation walked away believing that they remained on great terms with the other. Trump Jr. is currently planning to do whatever he can to help the GOP take back the House in 2022, according to a person familiar with the matter. "Don wants to see Kevin as speaker of the House,” this source said.
Moreover, multiple news outlets reported on Wednesday that former President Trump and McCarthy are scheduled to meet in person in Florida on Thursday.
“We’re stuck with him,” one longtime Republican operative said, referring to Trump, citing recent conversations with pollsters, lawmakers, and major donors. Despite Trump’s role in causing the mayhem early this month (not to mention the upwards of 400,000 COVID-19 deaths and the destroyed economy he and his administration left behind), recent polls show that the twice-impeached Trump continues to be far and away the most popular figure in the GOP and among conservative voters.
And this comes as other party stalwarts and even a few MAGA devotees have openly acknowledged this month that Trump had disgraced himself. “In the last two months or so, [Trump’s] done everything possible to destroy every bit of his legacy,” assessed Ed Rollins, a veteran GOP strategist who has for years fronted the pro-Trump group Great America PAC.
As for prominent conservatives who are still hoping to inherit Trump’s base and lead the party in the future, they have clearly determined that short-term benefits all lie in having Trump’s back, or at least in continuing to make excuses for him.
The week of the riot, Trump’s onetime UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said during remarks at an RNC winter meeting, “He was badly wrong with his words,” and that Trump’s “actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history.” Haley described the situation as “deeply disappointing.” But, apparently, it wasn’t disappointing enough.
On Monday night, Haley appeared on Fox News to identify the real victim in this case: Donald J. Trump.
“They beat him up before he got into office and they’re beating him up after he leaves office,” Haley said. “I mean at some point, give the man a break. I mean, move on, if [Democrats] truly are about moving on.”
In a way, Trump said early this month that this would happen. Shortly after the Jan. 6 mob violence, the Republican president made a prediction to some confidants and aides. As The Daily Beast reported at the time, Trump had privately insisted that the second impeachment drive by House Democrats was, to him, a pointless exercise because he was convinced that there would never be enough GOP votes in the Senate to convict him, much less to kick him out of the party.
And now, the party is rushing to his defense.
“Make no mistake: Democrat leaders’ vendetta against President Trump has always included impeachment, with many pledging to do so even before he took office,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement on Wednesday. “Not only is this impeachment trial a distraction from the important issues Americans want Congress focused on, it is unconstitutional, and I join the vast majority of Senate Republicans in opposing it.”