Republicans are overwhelmingly sticking with Trump, yet again

Days before his second impeachment trial, Trump’s influence over the Republican Party remains as entrenched as ever.

Then US President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 US presidential election results by the US Congress, in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021. [Jim Bourg/File Photo/Reuters]

On January 13, Donald Trump became the first president in US history to be impeached twice. Ten Republican members of Congress, including the third-most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, broke rank and voted with the Democrats to charge the president with “inciting violence against the government of the United States.”

This took place exactly one week after Trump supporters organised a violent insurrection to take over the US Capitol Building and block the certification of Biden’s Electoral College win, an effort that was supported politically by Republican members of Congress and senators who voted against certifying the electoral college win.

The FBI is also currently investigating the role that some Republican members of Congress may have played in aiding and abetting the January 6 insurrection, which led to five deaths and multiple injuries.

The final vote tally in favour of impeachment was 232 to 197. Every single Democrat in the chamber voted for impeachment, along with 10 Republicans. 197 Republicans voted against the measure, a testament to the now-former president’s continued popularity within the Republican Party.

According to a Monmouth University Poll, released on January 25, 56 percent of Americans approve of the House of Representatives impeaching Trump while 42 percent disapprove. Yet, support for Trump’s impeachment among Republican voters remains low at 13  percent.

This does shed light on a slight shift among Republicans; this percentage is higher than it was during Trump’s first impeachment trial in January 2020, when only 8 percent of Republicans approved. Nevertheless, Republican voter support for impeachment is still incredibly low.

On January 25, nine House members appointed to prepare the case for impeachment delivered the article to the Senate. This team, along with Trump’s defence team, will have about two weeks to prepare their cases for the impeachment trial set to begin in the Senate on February 9.

During this trial, the Senators act as jurors in a court of law, and the president pro-tempore of the Senate, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, will preside over the trial. For the former president to be convicted, a supermajority of 67 votes is needed, meaning 17 Republicans would have to join Democrats in supporting the conviction of former President Trump. What is the likelihood for this and what are the implications for the Republican field of presidential candidates in 2024?

Senate Republicans are not going to convict Trump

It is not likely there are enough votes to convict Trump. President Biden himself said in an interview on January 25 that Democrats did not have the votes in the Senate to convict Trump. Even though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was not sure how he would vote, signalling the first significant break between Trump and the most powerful Republican in the Senate, he and 45 Republican senators voted on January 26 in favour of a motion proposed by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul to dismiss the impeachment trial. The strategy behind this motion was to question the constitutionality of convicting a former president, another first in American history. Only five Republicans opposed the measure. This is the most glaring indication that nowhere close to 17 Republicans will vote with the Democrats to convict the former president.

The Republican Party’s reaction to the 10 members who voted in favour of impeachment on January 13 is also telling. The far-right Freedom Caucus petitioned to push Liz Cheney to resign from her post as House GOP conference chair. By voting in favour of impeachment, which she called a “vote of conscience”, Cheney positioned herself against the majority of Republicans. This includes the two most powerful Republicans in the House of Representatives, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise – both of whom opposed impeachment. It may also be politically challenging for her as a representative of the very conservative state of Wyoming, where Trump won 70 percent of the vote last November. Cheney is already facing a Republican challenger in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections in response to her vote.

In Trump’s impeachment hearing in the House of Representatives in January 2020 – his first time – not a single Republican broke ranks to vote with the Democrats. The 10 Republicans who broke with their party this time around surely represent a small but growing contingency of Republican voters that are fed up with Trump’s control over the Republican Party. But opposing Trump is still politically toxic in today’s Republican Party. Longtime Trump ally and senior Republican senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, believes that Trump is the key to the Republican Party’s success in the future. In a Fox News interview, he argued, “I hope people in our party understand the party itself. If you’re wanting to erase Donald Trump from the party, you’re gonna get erased.”

Moreover, Trump has threatened political retribution against those GOP members of Congress who support impeachment. The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump and his closest aides were in discussions about creating a new “Patriot Party” to challenge Republican candidates. However, Trump recently disavowed these reports and reassured Senate Republicans. Republican Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota relayed to Politico that “The president wanted me to know, as well as a handful of others, that the president is a Republican, he is not starting a third party and that anything he would do politically in the future would be as a Republican.”

Will Trump run again in 2024?

If 17 Republicans did decide to join the Democrats and vote to convict Trump, what would happen next? After conviction, the Senate could then move on to another crucial vote to ban Trump from running for federal office. For this second vote, they would only need 51 votes instead of the 67 needed for conviction, a much more manageable feat for Democrats. This would ban Trump from running for president in 2024, but it would not necessarily prevent him from remaining a major political force in the Republican Party. He already created the “Office of the Former President”, which aims to “advance the interests of the United States and … carry on the agenda of the Trump Administration through advocacy, organizing, and public activism,” hinting that, no matter what, he will play an influential political role in the future, whether that be through starting a new media company, supporting political candidates, or eventually running for president in 2024 if he is not convicted and barred from running for federal office by the US Senate.

Trump has previously told allies that he would run again in 2024 but also hinted that he may ultimately decide to back away from that promise. A desire to get attention and remain politically relevant during the Biden administration will likely push him to keep people guessing until after the 2022 midterms.

However, even if Trump remains popular and ends up running, the Republican Party is in crisis. They just lost the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. The results of the Georgia Senate race also reveal that traditionally Republican states across the south are increasingly voting for Democrats, due to a combination of demographic changes and grassroots voting rights mobilisation within the Democratic Party. Moreover, a majority of Americans believe Trump is responsible for the January 6 Capitol Hill insurrection and support impeachment, and his approval rating was below 40 percent at the end of his tenure.

All of this leaves the Republican presidential field wide open for 2024. Even if Trump can run, he may opt not to. Many of Trump’s allies are likely planning a 2024 run, including members of his former administration like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. Trump’s staunchest allies in Congress, like Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Hawley – both of whom led the effort against certifying the electoral college on January 6 – have long been positioning themselves as Trump’s successor. Trump’s own children could also throw their hats in the ring, but it is more likely they would focus their efforts elsewhere. For example, Ivanka Trump may run for a Florida Senate seat and Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, may run for a North Carolina Senate seat.

What is certain is that any potential Republican contender for president will be proceeding with caution to see what Trump does in the next couple of years. Presidential campaigning does not normally begin until after the midterms, so many of these candidates will start making moves around 2022, depending on what Trump does. At this point, no one knows. The only certainty in early 2021 is that Trump’s influence over the Republican Party remains as entrenched as ever.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.