WASHINGTON — Just a few weeks ago, President Trump, even in defeat after the November election, dominated the Republican Party — able to bend lawmakers to his will and assert a strong claim to the party’s nomination for another White House run four years from now.
Today, as the final days of his presidency hurtle toward their close and the House prepares to impeach him for a second time, Trump’s formidable control of the party has rapidly eroded.
Events have moved so fast, and Trump’s power has waned so quickly, that the prospect of a Senate conviction of the president — either removing him from office before the inauguration next week or voting afterward to bar him from running again — has gone in a matter of days from almost inconceivable to openly under discussion.
That does not guarantee that Trump will be abandoned by the GOP.
He remains popular with a large majority of Republican voters. Even if the House votes today to impeach him, as expected, rounding up 17 Republican senators willing to convict — the number needed if all 50 Democrats were to vote against him — remains a formidable task. Getting anything through the Senate before Inauguration Day would require surmounting procedural hurdles that may be impossible to clear.
But two powerful forces have combined to rapidly erode Trump’s support from fellow Republicans. Both involve events he helped set in motion — last Wednesday’s mob attack on the U.S. Capitol and, the day earlier, the Republicans’ loss of both Senate seats in Georgia.
The first dynamic is personal: Members of Congress in both parties were deeply shocked by last week’s riot, which suddenly made Trump’s conduct a factor in their own lives — forcing them to flee to shelter. That shock has grown as more details of the riot have become public.
Democrats have insistently blamed Trump for inciting the violence. Most Republicans have stopped short of that, but many agree that Trump’s rhetoric played a significant role.
The second is political: Over the past four years, Republicans were willing to excuse Trump’s conduct when they thought he held the key to political power for their party. But the twin defeats in Georgia, which came after Trump repeatedly attacked the state’s Republican governor and secretary of state, shattered that belief.
Today many Republican strategists believe that so long as Trump remains the face of the party, they will be at risk of defeat even in once-reliably red states. Separating from him could cause a deep split in the party, alienating millions of Trump voters, but the risk of keeping him on board is higher, they believe.