Trump remains a Republican Party figure to reckon with

As an impeachment trial looms in Washington, the disgraced ex-president is making clear to Republican senators that they need to remember he is a major force
Last Updated 27 January 2021, 03:57 IST

He's gone, he's golfing, but from his palm-lined Florida hideaway, Donald Trump is also plotting revenge.

If many Americans -- perhaps discreetly including a number of senior Republicans -- wished Trump would just disappear at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, they're in for a sore disappointment.

As an impeachment trial clanks into gear in Washington, the disgraced ex-president is making clear to Republican senators that they need to remember he is a major force.

An announcement on Monday that he was opening "the Office of the Former President" in his new hometown reminded them.

"President Trump will always and forever be a champion for the American People," the statement said.

Senators are considering Trump's fate in the first impeachment trial ever of a former president and -- after last year's version -- the first time a president has been twice impeached at all.

But Trump -- winner of 74 million votes in his defeat to Biden on November 3 and reportedly sitting on some $70 million in campaign funds -- wants Republican senators to consider their own futures before they dare cross him.

At least 17 Republicans would need to join the 50 Senate Democrats for a conviction in his trial. Every day that goes by, this appears less likely.

Yes, a lot of Republican lawmakers are furious at Trump's incitement of a crowd to march on Congress on January 6 to try and interrupt certification of President Joe Biden's election win.

But Republicans also want to win back the House of Representatives and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections and the White House in 2024.

For now at least, being pro-Trump is arguably the best way to achieve this.

According to a January Washington Post-ABC News poll, nearly six in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe the party needs to remain under Trump's leadership.

Trump's main way of applying pressure while out of office is to threaten disloyal legislators with support for their challengers in party primary votes ahead of the 2022 midterms.

Trump's endorsement on Monday of his former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in her bid to become governor of Arkansas was a first flexing of political muscle.

Sanders is competing against more senior party officials in the state for the shot at high office. But in the race to be the most loyal Trump acolyte, she already wins hands down and can expect to reap the rewards.

For those who have failed the Trump purity test, nervous days await.

During the four years of his presidency, Trump ground down almost any internal opposition. So he was stung by the outpouring of criticism over his actions on January 6 and he'd like revenge.

Those on the list include the 10 Republicans in the House who voted with Democrats for his impeachment and now are likely to face primary challenges.

If Senators go further by voting for his conviction, that would trigger an even harsher response from Trump and grassroot Republicans who believe his lie that he was robbed of election victory.

Responding to reports that Trump was considering founding a breakaway right-wing party, adviser Jason Miller told Axios that the ex-president is fully supportive of the Republican Party -- for now.

"It's completely up to Republican senators if this is something that becomes more serious," he was quoted as saying.

One Republican feeling the tension is Marco Rubio, a senator in Florida.

He is loyally attacking the impeachment trial as a "waste of time" and "vengeance from the radical left."

But is this enough?

Rubio did not support Trump's last-minute attempts to challenge congressional certification of Biden's victory, putting him in the potential crosshairs.

Speculation is rife that Rubio's seat could be challenged in the 2022 primary by none other than Ivanka Trump, the ex-president's ambitious daughter and former White House advisor.

Asked about this scenario by Fox News on Sunday, Rubio looked uncomfortable.

"I like Ivanka," he said.

(Published 27 January 2021, 03:25 IST)

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