Meanwhile, the backlash against the seven Republican senators who crossed the aisle on Saturday to vote with Democrats to convict Trump of an incitement to rebellion began. Senator Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.) planted his flag firmly in Trump’s camp Sunday with harsh words to his Republican colleagues – including his party leader.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Voted to acquit the former president – then followed his “not guilty” vote with a long speech on the floor about how Trump, in his estimation, had been “practically and morally responsible” for provoking mob that overran the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.
The violent siege left five people dead, including a police officer. Two other officers who helped fight the Capitol mob died of suicide in the days after, and their families want their deaths recognized as “line of duty” deaths.
McConnell may have “gotten a load off his chest” with his speech, Graham said, but he had also made himself a target for pro-Trump Republicans by 2022.
“Donald Trump is the most vibrant member of the Republican Party. The Trump movement is alive and well, “Graham told host Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. “All I can say is that the most potent force in the Republican Party is President Trump. We need Trump. ”
Graham’s full defense of Trump revealed the divisions the former president has created within the GOP over the past four years. There are those Republicans who say they need to distance themselves from Trump in order to survive, and those who believe that doubling Trumpism is the only way forward. Until this point, Graham has been waving – alternately trying to appeal to both sides – but on Sunday he made it clear he wanted to belong to the latter faction and seemed to enjoy his role as Trump champion.
“I have been asked by many people. . . ‘Calm down President Trump, talk to him, calm him down.’ Sometimes he does, and sometimes he does not. But to my Republican colleagues, this is a two-way street, ”Graham said. “I am winning. And if you want to get something off your chest, fine. But I’m about to win. ”
At times in his interview with Wallace, Graham sounded as if he was reading from a script intended for Trump. He blasted the indictment as “a complete joke” and President Biden for trying to push his “most radical agenda.”
When asked about former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s recent decision to distance himself from Trump, after unequivocally supporting him and not speaking out against his baseless allegations of electoral fraud, Graham said the South Caroliner was “wrong” .
He also said Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, should run to replace retired Senator Richard Burr (RN.C.), who cast a surprising vote to judge Trump on Saturday.
“The biggest winner I think of this whole indictment is Lara Trump,” Graham said. “If she’s running, I’ll definitely be behind her because I think she represents the future of the Republican Party.”
Graham’s unapologetic embrace of Trump – unlike the GOP’s longtime leaders – comes as a series of high-profile Republicans who have dared to criticize the former president, who has been punished by their state and local parties. On Saturday, Senator Bill Cassidy (La.) Became the last Republican to be censored by his state party for his vote to convict Trump. Cassidy had previously voted against the constitutionality of the trial, but said he changed his mind after listening to House prosecutors asserting their case. During the trial, he appeared to be devouring news articles in the open and raised specific questions to fill in the gaps.
In the end, Cassidy cast a “guilty” vote and issued a simple, 10 second video to explain his decision. “Our constitution and our country are more important than any person. “I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty,” Cassidy said in the video.
On ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, Cassidy waved concern over what Trump would mean for the GOP going forward.
“I think his strength is waning,” Cassidy said. “The Republican Party is more than just one person. The Republican Party is about ideas. ”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has been blunt in his criticism of Trump, predicted Sunday that there would be “a real fight for the soul of the Republican Party over the next few years.”
“I was very proud of some of the people who stood up and did the right thing. It’s not always easy. In fact, sometimes it’s really hard to go against your base and your colleagues to do what you think is right for the country, “Hogan said on NBC’s Meet the Press. ”
Hogan, who has not ruled out a presidential run in 2024, said there would have been more GOP votes against Trump if members did not fear setbacks from Trump and his supporters.
“Many Republicans are furious, but they do not have the courage to stand up and vote that way because they are afraid of becoming primary or they are losing their careers,” he added.
Trump himself has shown no intention of fading away and issued a statement shortly after the Senate vote slamming the entire prosecution process as “a witch hunt” and lamenting that no other president had been the victim of such accidents.
“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to make America great again has only just begun,” Trump said.
Trump, who has previously suggested running for president again in 2024, added that “in the coming months, I have a lot to share with you.”
Various Republicans have tried to abolish the party from Trump’s influence. Last month, the rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), One of 10 Republicans in the House who voted to accuse Trump, Country First PAC of challenging the party’s embrace of the former president. (He too has been censored by his local GOP apparatus.)
Over the weekend, Evan McMullin, executive director of the nonprofit political organization Stand Up Republic, spoke about his recent call with more than 120 Republican officials to start a new party or faction within the GOP.
“Well, I think what’s clear. . . is that something new is required, ”McMullin said on MSNBC Saturday. “Forty percent believe there is no hope for the GOP to reform and join the sound political process in America.”
McMullin said the hypothetical party could pose primary challengers against “Republicans who have mostly left our democracy,” citing the Arizona Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul A. Gosar as examples. McMullin, who ran as an independent in the 2016 presidential election to counter what he saw as the alarming move Trump had against the GOP, said Trump’s accusation and subsequent acquittal have only “intensified” discussions about a third party.
“We are committed to either taking a new route to fight for the direction of the GOP or to compete with it directly,” McMullin said.
Democrats defended their decision not to call witnesses Saturday in part because they recognized the extent to which GOP senators still support Trump. Republicans largely voted in unison with Trump during his presidency. In his speech Saturday, McConnell justified his acquittal by saying he did not believe the trial was constitutional because Trump was no longer president when the chamber received the indictment – without mentioning that he himself had refused to convene the Senate earlier than the day before Trump left office.
Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) Said he was pretty sure there would have been enough votes to convict Trump if there had been a secret ballot. Murphy also rejected Republicans’ claims that if a Democratic president had been in court, the votes would have been reversed.
“I think this personality cult built around President Trump is fundamentally different,” Murphy said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “I really do not believe that Democrats will rush to defend a president of our party who was essentially trying to overthrow an election.”
On Sunday, several homeowners said it would not have mattered if Democrats had called additional witnesses. The resulting vote would not have changed.
“When Mitch McConnell made it clear that he intended to acquit. . . what homeowners needed was no more witnesses or more evidence, ”Senator Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) told ABCs this week. “” What we all needed was more Republican courage. “
Karoun Demirjian and Greg Jaffe contributed to this report.
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