The start of Donald Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial is the latest reminder that although he’s left the White House, the former president hasn’t vacated his role as the dominant figure in the Republican Party—and the most divisive one. Republicans had hoped to spend the Biden era stoking tensions between moderate Democrats like the new president and the rising faction to his left. Instead, it’s the GOP that’s quickly fractured over the question of whether its members should remain in thrall to Trump or seek to move on from him.
As the two Republican factions wrestle for control of their party, Democrats have emerged as the major beneficiaries—especially those on the left.
Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection led some Republicans to step up and advocate for a clean break. But they were met with an angry backlash. After voting to impeach Trump, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking House Republican, faced a caucus vote to strip her of her leadership position (she survived). Other Trump critics were censured by state and county GOP groups or threatened with primary challenges.
“Many of you are hacked off that I condemned his lies,” Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, whose state party plans to censure him, said in a video defending his criticism of Trump. “Let’s be clear: The anger in this state party has never been about me violating principle or abandoning conservative policy. I’m one of the most conservative voters in the Senate. The anger’s always been simply about me not bending the knee to … one guy.”
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