Just two weeks ago, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy declared Donald Trump culpable in the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. By Thursday, he was seeking his political support.
A private meeting between the two men at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., signaled a remarkable turnaround in the former president’s stature among elected Republicans. In the immediate aftermath of the insurrection Trump inspired , the idea that he would enjoy any sort of kingmaker role in his post-presidency seemed highly unlikely.
But following an initial wave of condemnation, Republicans appear to be warming toward Trump, fully aware that his supporters are poised to punish anyone who displays disloyalty. With that in mind, party leaders are working to keep Trump in the fold as they focus on retaking the House and Senate in 2022.
“United and ready to win in ’22,” McCarthy tweeted after the Mar-a-Lago meeting. Both he and Trump issued statements outlining their pledge to work together to help Republicans win back control of the House and Senate in 2022.
The realignment with Trump comes as those who have crossed him continue to feel the burn. Trump ally Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, spent the day in Wyoming trying to take down Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, who voted for Trump’s impeachment. Amid the backlash, Senate Republicans largely made clear this week that they have no intention of convicting Trump.
While Trump tries to exert influence, he’s undeniably diminished. It was less than a week ago that the New Yorker referred to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell as having “dumped” Trump on the morning of the Capitol riot, noting in a manner many heard as meant to be especially painful to Trump that the election “actually was not unusually close.”
“The voters, the courts, and the states have all spoken,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever.”
Trump had, prior to the insurrection, been expected to spend his post-presidency gleefully settling scores with Republicans rivals, launching a Twitter-fueled takedown of his successor and mulling over running again for a second term. Now, he is largely isolated and silenced by social-media platforms as President Joe Biden attempts to dismantle his agenda, executive order by executive order.
He has not been seen in public since he disappeared behind the manicured hedges at Mar-a-Lago last Wednesday, a half-hour before his presidency ended. He has spent his days consulting with aides and defense lawyers as he prepares for his historic second impeachment trial.
Things are very different now. Last time, Trump had an army of defenders that included a team of Washington lawyers, a presidential communications shop, a taxpayer-funded White House counsel’s office and the steadfast backing of top Republicans, including the Republican National Committee.
This time, Trump is scrambling to pull together a legal team, with the trial less than two weeks out.
“I think he’s at a significant disadvantage,” said criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, who was part of Trump’s legal team in 2020 but is among the long list of lawyers sitting this one out.
Yet even the impeachment trial, once seen as an opportunity for Senate Republicans to purge Trump from the party by barring him from ever running for office again, is now being used as a rallying cry to reunite the party against Democrats. Instead of debating whether he is guilty of “willfully inciting violence against the government of the United States,” Republicans have instead attacked the process, arguing that it is unconstitutional to try a president who has already left the White House.
“At a time when our country needs to come together, Democrats in Congress are rehashing the same strategy that they employed for the last four years: politically motivated overreach that will only divide us further,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said in a statement that came after heated internal divisions over whether the group should publicly criticize Trump for inciting the riot.
In an interview, McDaniel declined to criticize the five Republican senators who voted this week to move forward with the trial. But she said that “it’s more important to look at the 45 that said this is ridiculous.”