State and county Republican Party committees have rushed to former President Donald Trump’s defense in the face of his upcoming impeachment trial, highlighting the former president’s popularity and power within the GOP.
The House voted to impeach Trump earlier this month on the sole impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection,” with Democrats claiming he incited violence at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. Trump called on the protesters not to engage in violent acts before the protest and later told them to “go home in peace.”
Forty-five Republican senators voted several days ago against holding an impeachment trial, arguing it would be unconstitutional to impeach a former president, sending a signal that there are not enough votes to convict Trump, with a conviction requiring a two-thirds majority.
At the same time, in both swing states and Republican bastions, state and local GOP committees, which are stocked with Trump supporters who remain loyal, members have moved to punish Republicans who have called for Trump’s impeachment.
On Saturday, the South Carolina Republican Party will decide whether to censure Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) for his vote to impeach Trump. Rice was among 10 Republicans who joined Democrats to impeach Trump over the Capitol riot.
Republican Party chairwoman Dreama Perdue, GOP chairwoman in Rice’s home Horry County, said the move is meant as a rebuke for what many of his constituents consider an act of betrayal.
The effect amounts to a firewall protecting Trump and his politics from Republicans who want to cut ties with the former president.
In Washington state, several county party committees have called for the removal of the two House members who voted for Trump’s impeachment. Primary challengers have begun lining up to take on all 10 Republican House members who voted to impeach the former president.
Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward, a staunch Trump ally, was reelected on Jan. 22, fending off several challengers for the role, after the former president endorsed her for another two-year term. In a short call last week, Trump called on Arizonans to reelect Ward, saying that he gives her his “complete and total endorsement,” due to her stances on a number of issues.
“She is a terrific person. She is a person I know. You’ll never find anybody as dedicated to every aspect we’re all dedicated to,” Trump said, in his first post-White House endorsement.
Trump’s hold on state parties reflects the ex-president’s continued popularity with the base and the loyalty he has gained in the typically obscure local GOP apparatus.
Trump brought in millions of new voters to the party with his populist approach. And Republicans should welcome those voters’ decision to stay involved, even when Trump is not on the ballot, argued Constantin Querard, a conservative Republican strategist in Arizona.
“Without Trump, some of them will go home, but some of them will stick around forever,” he said.
And since many of the former president’s loyalists have been elected to posts with multi-year terms and positioned to keep rising, Trump’s influence on the party structure isn’t likely to wane soon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.