Donald Trump may have escaped conviction, but the Republican Party will be suffering the consequences of his abhorrent insurrection for years to come. The fact that a historic number of GOP Senate and House lawmakers joined Democrats in declaring Trump guilty of betraying the country sets up a dramatic rift in a party that already appears to be going through a tumultuous realignment.
Trump's constant defender, golf partner, and sometimes election meddler Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina rushed out to the Sunday talk shows to assure Republicans they are doooooomed without Donald Trump. “Donald Trump is the most vibrant member of the Republican Party. The Trump movement is alive and well,” Graham told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace. “All I can say is that the most potent force in the Republican Party is President Trump. We need Trump.”
The notion that a guy who just came the closest leader in American history to getting convicted of impeachment charges is the "most vibrant member" of the GOP is really a stunning admission—Graham just doesn't know it. Graham is legitimately panicked. In essence, Republicans can't win without Trump, but trying to win with him is going to weigh down the party like a bag of bricks.
Graham panned as "wrong" a recent move by Republican Nikki Haley to try (yet again!) to distance herself from Trump as she angles for 2024. Graham also twice declared during the Fox interview, "I'm into winning," taking a swipe at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for ripping into Trump in a cynical effort to appease corporate donors who have soured on him.
But Graham did make one observation that is surely true about McConnell's oratory castigation of Trump despite the fact that he ultimately surrendered to casting an acquittal vote. "That speech you will see in 2022 campaigns,” Graham predicted. Truth. Any right-wing Trumper who emerges victorious after a bruising GOP primary will certainly hear the echo of McConnell's words slamming their general election pitch.
McConnell knew that before he made the speech, and it also tells you just how desperate he is to keep those corporate donations flowing. He was trying to split the baby by acquitting Trump in one breath and skewering him in the next, but that’s also bound to cause some GOP collateral damage heading into 2022.
Just to truly drive home how far the GOP star has fallen, Graham declared none other than Lara Trump, the supremely uninspired beneficiary of Trump nepotism and Ivanka wannabe, the future of the Republican Party. Verbatim—not kidding.
“The biggest winner I think of this whole impeachment trial is Lara Trump,” Graham said. “If she runs, I will certainly be behind her because I think she represents the future of the Republican Party.”
Lara led Trump's "Women for Trump" initiative targeting the suburbs, which you may recall, wasn't the electoral fast ball the campaign hoped it would be. She has reportedly been eyeing a bid for the U.S. Senate seat opening up in North Carolina in 2022.
On the other side of Graham's sycophantic appeals and McConnell's Machiavellian maneuvering was Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who seemed to grow genuinely outraged over the course of the trial by Trump's murderous riot and overt lack of remorse. After Cassidy voted to convict, he released an exceedingly simple and unapologetic statement: "Our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person. I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty."
On ABC's This Week Sunday, Cassidy predicted Trump's influence over the party had peaked and was on its way down. “I think his force wanes," Cassidy said.
What's so fascinating is that both Graham and Cassidy are likely speaking shades of the truth. Trump remains the most high-profile Republican nationwide and, while he will surely continue to harness the intensity of the nativist wing of the GOP, his ability to command a broad enough coalition to win national and statewide elections has just as surely taken a hit. In essence, Trump is a short-term bandage for a gaping oozing wound within the Republican Party. The Lindsey Grahams of the world are clinging to Trump for dear life, but his epic toxicity guarantees that wound will only deepen in the months and years ahead.