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Trump still has an iron grip on Republicans

Donald J. Trump, who was banned from Facebook, stranded in Mar-a-Lago and mocked for an amateurish new website, went largely out of sight this week. However, the Republican Party’s surrender to the former president has become clearer than ever, as has the damage to American politics he has caused by his lie that his election was stolen.

In Washington, Republicans moved to remove Representative Liz Cheney from her leadership position in the House of Representatives. This was punishment for denouncing Trump’s false claims of electoral fraud as a threat to democracy. Florida and Texas lawmakers have taken sweeping new measures that would restrict voting and reiterated the fictional narrative by Mr Trump and his allies that the electoral system had been rigged against him. And in Arizona, the state Republican Party began a bizarre November election results review looking for traces of bamboo in last year’s polls.

The tumultuous dramas clearly demonstrated the extent to which, six months after the elections, the nation is still grappling with the aftermath of an attack by a lost presidential candidate on a fundamental principle of American democracy: that the nation’s elections are legitimate.

They also provided clear evidence that the former president not only succeeded in suppressing dissent within his party, but also persuaded most of the GOP to make a gigantic bet: the surest way to regain power is through his adopt combative style and racial segregation and beyond the pale conspiracy theories, rather than wooing the suburban swing voters who are costing the party the White House and who may be looking for substantive policies on the pandemic, the economy and other issues. Loyalty to the former president persists despite his role in inciting his supporters prior to the January 6 uprising at the Capitol, with his supporters either ignoring, redefining, or, in some cases, tacitly accepting the deadly attack on Congress.

“We’re just so far from a reasonable construction,” said Barbara Comstock, a longtime party official who was swept from her congressional seat in suburban Virginia in the 2018 medium-term backlash against Mr. Trump. “It’s a real disease that infects the party on all levels. We’re just going to say that black is now white. “

Yet while Republicans wrap themselves in the fantasy of a stolen election, Democrats are entrenched in the day-to-day business of running a nation still struggling to get out of a deadly pandemic.

Strategists from both parties say that a mismatched dynamic – two parties operating in two different realities – is likely to determine politics in the country for years to come.

At the same time, President Biden faces a bigger challenge: what to do with that large part of the public who questions its legitimacy and a Republican party that is wooing support for this segment by putting forward bills that restrict voting and, possibly, confidence in them Would further undermine the future? Elections.

A CNN poll released last week found that nearly a third of Americans, including 70 percent Republicans, said Biden did not legitimately win enough votes to win the presidency.

White House advisors say Mr Biden believes the best way to restore confidence in the democratic process is to show that the government can provide tangible benefits to voters – whether vaccines or stimulus measures.

Dan Sena, a Democratic strategist who oversaw the Democratic Campaigns Committee’s strategy to win the house during the recent midterm elections, said the Republican focus on cultural issues such as bans on transgender athletes is a “win-win” situation for his party. Many Democrats will only face scatter-shot attacks on their agenda as they continue to stand against the polarizing rhetoric of Mr. Trump, which helped the party flip suburban swing districts in 2018 and 2020.

“I’d much rather have a record of my side by side with the Americans in recovery,” said Sena. “What story does the American public want to hear – what have Democrats done to get the country moving again, or Donald Trump and his culture war?”

Mr Biden predicted during the campaign that if Mr Trump were gone, Republicans would have a “revelation” and be back to the party he knew during his decades in the Senate. When asked about Republicans this week, Mr Biden complained that he no longer understood them and appeared a little baffled by the “mini-revolution” within their ranks.

“I think Republicans are further from figuring out who they are and what they stand for than I thought they would be at this point,” he said.

But for much of the past week, Republicans have been vividly portraying exactly what they stand for now: Trumpism. Many have adopted his approach of paying homage to white grievances with racist utterances, and Republican-led legislatures across the country are imposing restrictions that would restrict electoral access in ways that disproportionately affect color voters.

There are also important considerations about elections. With his highly polarizing style, Mr Trump motivated his grassroots and critics alike and urged both parties to register the turnout in the 2020 election. His total of 74 million votes was the second highest ever, after just 81 million from Mr Biden, and Mr Trump has demonstrated the ability to turn his political supporters against any Republican who opposes him.

That convinced Republicans they had to show unwavering loyalty to a late president in order to keep the voters he won.

“I would just say to my Republican colleagues, can we move forward without President Trump? The answer is no, ”Senator Lindsey Graham said in an interview with Fox News this week. “I’ve found that we can’t grow without him.”

In some ways, the former president is downsized more than ever. Defeated in the polls, he spends his time at his Florida resort playing golf and entertaining visitors. He is missing the presidency bullying pulpit, has been banned from Twitter and was unable to restore his account from Facebook this week. He left with an approval rating of less than 40 percent, the lowest final rating for the first term of president since Jimmy Carter in 1979.

Still, its dominance over Republicans is reflected in everything from Congress to the state houses. Local and federal lawmakers who have urged their party to accept the election results, and with them the loss of Mr Trump, have faced a steady drumbeat of criticism and primary challenges. Those threats seem to be having an impact: the small number of Republican officials who have criticized Mr Trump in the past, including the 10 who voted for his impeachment in February, remained largely silent this week, declining interview requests and offering little public support for Mrs. Cheney.

Her likely successor, Rep. Elise Stefanik, has publicly applied for the post and has sought to substantiate her Trump belief by believing his baseless allegations of electoral fraud in interviews with hard-line supporters of the former president.

The focus on the elections has displaced almost any discussion of politics or party orthodoxy. Ms. Cheney received a lifetime score of 82 percent on the Heritage Action Scorecard, which is used to rate lawmakers based on their conservative voting results. Ms. Stefanik, who has a more moderate vote, but is a much louder supporter of the former president, scored 52 percent.

Ms. Stefanik and many other Republican leaders are betting that the way to maintain Trump-era election wins is to bolster their base with populist politics, which is central to the president’s brand, even if it is swing- Fending off voters.

After months of feeding lies the conservative news media about the elections, much of the party has come to believe them to be true.

Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist who has led focus groups on Trump voters for years, said she had found an increased openness to what she calls “QAnon curious” since the election, a willingness to share conspiracy theories about stolen elections and a deep one to entertain state. “Many of these grassroots voters live in a nihilism for the truth, where you don’t believe in anything and think anything could be wrong,” said Ms. Longwell, who spoke out against Mr. Trump.

Some Republican strategists fear the party will have no opportunity to attack Mr Biden, who has proposed the most comprehensive spending and tax plans in generations.

“Republicans need to get back to the kitchen table issues that voters really care about, sprinkling a bit of culture here and there but not getting carried away,” said Scott Reed, a seasoned Republican strategist who helped create this last election has to destroy right-wing populists. “And some of them make an industry out of getting carried away.”

While sticking to Mr Trump could help the party increase voter turnout in its base, Republicans like Ms. Comstock argue that such a strategy will harm the party with key demographics, including younger voters, color voters, women and suburbanites.

Intraparty battles are already cropping up in the emerging primary elections as candidates accuse each other of infidelity to the former president. Many party leaders fear that doing so could result in die-hard candidates coming out victorious and eventually losing parliamentary elections in conservative states, where Republicans like Missouri and Ohio were supposed to gain the upper hand.

“To declare Trump the winner of a shrinking minority, this is not an area that you want to go to,” said Ms. Comstock. “The future of the party will not be for a 70-year-old man in Mar-a-Lago to speak in the mirror and all these sycophants to come down and levitate to get his approval.”

However, those who have objected to Mr. Trump and paid the price say there is little political incentive to tackle the flood. Criticizing Mr. Trump, or even defending those who do so, can leave elected officials in some sort of political no man’s land: viewed as treasonable to Republican voters, but still too conservative on other issues to be accepted by Democrats and Independents .

“It seems like it’s getting harder and harder for people to go down the stump and defend someone like Liz Cheney or Mitt Romney,” said former Senator Jeff Flake, who endorsed Mr Biden and was censored by the Arizona Republican Party during one this year Panel appearance at Harvard this week. “About 70 percent of Republicans likely genuinely believe the election was stolen, and that is debilitating. It’s really.”

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