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Republicans head for bitter showdown

Trump wants to punish those who have crossed him, critics keen to end his influence
Donald Trump

Alexander Burns And Jonathan Martin   |   New York   |   Published 17.01.21, 12:33 AM

As President Trump prepares to leave office with his party in disarray, Republican leaders including Senator Mitch McConnell are maneuvering to thwart his grip on the Republican party in future elections, while forces aligned with Trump are looking to punish Republican lawmakers and governors who have broken with him.

The bitter infighting underscores the deep divisions Trump has created in the Republican Party and all but ensures that the next campaign will represent a pivotal test of the party’s direction, with a series of clashes looming in the months ahead.

The friction is already escalating in several key swing states in the aftermath of Trump’s incitement of the mob that attacked the Capitol last week.

They include Arizona, where Trump-aligned activists are seeking to censure the Republican governor they deem insufficiently loyal to the President, and Georgia, where a hard-Right faction wants to defeat the current governor in a primary election.

In Washington, Republicans are particularly concerned about a handful of extreme-Right House members who could run for Senate in swing states, potentially tarnishing the party in some of the most politically important areas of the country.

McConnell’s political lieutenants envision a large-scale campaign to block such candidates from winning primaries in crucial states.

But Trump’s political cohort appears no less determined, and his allies in the states have been laying the groundwork to take on Republican officials who voted to impeach Trump — or who merely acknowledged the plain reality that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had won the presidential race.

“Hell yes we are,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump.

Kinzinger was equally blunt when asked how he and other anti-Trump Republicans could dilute the President’s clout in primaries: “We beat him,” he said.

The highest-profile tests of Trump’s clout may come in two sparsely populated western states, South Dakota and Wyoming, where the President has targeted a pair of Republican leaders: John Thune, the second-ranking Senate Republican, and Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican.

“I suspect we will see a lot of that activity in the next couple of years out there for some of our members, myself included,” said Thune, adding that he and others would have to “play the hand you’re dealt”.

He may face less political peril than Cheney, who in voting to impeach Trump said that “there has never been a greater betrayal by a President”. The Wyoming Republican Party said it had been inundated with calls and messages from voters fuming about her decision.

Trump has talked to advisers about his contempt for Cheney in the days since the vote and expressed his glee about the backlash she is enduring in her home state.

Privately, Republican officials concerned about possible campaigns for higher office by some of the high-profile backbenchers in the House who have railed against the election results and propagated fringe conspiracy theories. Among those figures are Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Andy Biggs of Arizona. All three states have Senate seats and governorships up for election in 2022.

Just as striking, a number of mainline conservatives in the House are speaking openly about how much Trump damaged himself in the aftermath of the election, culminating with his role in inspiring the riots.

“The day after the election, that question of leadership was unquestionably in one person’s hands, and each week that has gone past, he has limited himself, sadly, based off his own actions,” said Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina.

New York Times News Service

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