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Capitol riot puts Trump’s future in GOP into question

WASHINGTON Even after President Donald Trump lost re-election, it was an article of faith in the Republican establishment that the outgoing president would remain the big foot of the GOP.

If he did not run in 2024, at the very least his support would be indispensable for GOP presidential hopefuls and candidates in 2022 congressional races.

Then came Jan. 6 when Trump supporters swarmed the Capitol in a show of mob force that left five people dead, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick.

Ed Rollins, who served as campaign director for President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign and advised a pro-Trump super PAC, told the Review-Journal that two months ago he saw Trump’s future as a GOP leader and kingmaker, but “what’s happened has changed all the dynamics” and “opened the dam up.”

“I think his whole history is going to be rewritten,” Rollins predicted, as “every story in the world” about Trump’s bad behavior comes to light and his positive accomplishments are overlooked.

Former President Richard Nixon did great things, Rollins offered, but “you can’t talk about Richard Nixon being a great president today because of Watergate.”

Sea change in Washington

Overnight Wednesday, Trump seemed less of a charm and more of a curse. The number of U.S. senators who said they would vote against certifying electoral votes in contested states shrank from 13 to seven before the day’s business was over.

On Thursday, critics focused on GOP Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas for spearheading the failed bid to overturn the Electoral College vote, which culminated in the Capitol riot.

Both senators, who have competed in displays of fealty to Trump, are expected to run for the White House in 2024.

Notably, former Missouri Sen. John Danforth told The Associated Press that “the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in life” was encouraging a young Hawley, who was elected to the Senate in 2018, to run for office. It was Hawley who first proposed opposing the certification of Biden’s victory.

Asked if Cruz and others should resign during a news conference Friday, President-elect Joe Biden answered, “I think they should be just flat beaten the next time they run. I think the American public had a real good, clear look at who they are.”

Biden also maintained, “We need a Republican party. We need an opposition that’s principled and strong. And I think you’re going to see them go through this idea, what constitutes a Republican Party?”

Other Republicans with presidential ambitions have walked a tightrope of having supported Trump’s re-election while distancing themselves from his inaccurate claims of a stolen election.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as Trump’s first ambassador to the United Nations, warned at a closed-door Republican National Committee confab Thursday that Trump’s post-election behavior “will be judged harshly by history.”

On Dec. 30, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska posted on Facebook that none of his GOP colleagues had told him the election results were fraudulent. “Instead, I hear them talk about their worries about how they will ‘look’ to President Trump’s most ardent supporters,” he said.

Trumpism here to stay?

On Wednesday, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., called on Trump to concede after he announced Sunday he would vote to certify the Electoral College.

Former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg had some advice for Cotton: Don’t criticize the president if you want to win in the 2024 primary. “Trumpism isn’t going anywhere,” he said.

After Trump lost in November, Nunberg told the Review-Journal he saw Trump’s future as the Republican for whose endorsement White House hopefuls would court in 2024 and 2022 midterm election candidates would look to as a kingmaker. Nunberg still believes.

“You can count on a couple things,” he said Friday. “Death, taxes and Donald Trump always being relevant.”

The election was stolen, Nunberg alleged, and the proof that Trump is good for the party can be seen in Republican gains in the House on Nov. 3 and the fact that he carried Florida, Ohio, Iowa and North Carolina.

With Trumpian bluster, Nunberg mocked Danforth. “He has no power.”

“Mitt Romney. Who cares?” Nunberg said of the frequent Trump scold. “He’s a junior senator from Utah with a basement office.”

A lying traitor?

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and a frequent Trump golf partner, found what life may be like Friday when Trump supporters called him a “liar” and a “traitor” after he criticized Trump’s failure to concede Wednesday, saying, “Count me out. Enough is enough.”

For that, according to Politico, one woman told Graham, “One day (you) will not be able to walk down the street. It is today.”

Democratic strategist Maria Cardona has little sympathy for Republicans who cozied up to Trump for four years. “A lot of them are now understanding what they helped create,” she said. “A Trumpkenstein monster.”

From the left, Cardona used the same language to lambaste GOP lawmakers: “They are traitors to the nation.”

With the exception of Romney, and perhaps Sasse, the rare Republicans who “had the backbone to stand up to Trump,” Cardona said, GOP members who parted company with Trump only after the election was called for Biden will bear “a huge stain on the whole Republican Party.”

And there will be no rewriting history for the seven senators and 138 House Republicans who voted not to count Arizona or Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes, Cardona said, because they “supported the domestic terrorists that came and attacked the Capitol.”

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Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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