'It's not their party any more': Trump leaves Republicans deeply fractured

<span>Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The rancorous four-year administration of Donald Trump will reach its denouement on Wednesday with the twice-impeached president committing one final act of enmity: dropping a match to ignite a civil war inside his Republican party.

Trump heads for the sanctuary of Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort, a bitterly divided party floundering in his wake. Republicans lost the presidency and both houses of Congress in his last two years in office, while the Capitol riot, failures in the response to Covid-19 and Trump’s lies about a “stolen” election are fresh in the minds of Republican detractors.

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Many party members believe such fractures will be exposed in swing states and across primary elections in the coming months and years, as moderates seek to loosen the influence of Trump and his supporters.

“This president, in his irrational, illegal and seditious conduct, has been enabled by his Republican congressional cult, and there’s been no restraints placed on him by that cult,” the Watergate veteran Carl Bernstein told CNN this week.

One faction, Trump loyalists determined to punish elected Republicans who supported impeachment after the attack on the Capitol, features a number of new Congress members blindly devoted to Trumpism and determined to move the party even further right.

More than 100 Republican members of the House and a handful of senators voted to oppose certification of Joe Biden’s victory in November’s presidential election that Trump falsely insists he won.

Some have been reluctant to condemn the Trump-fuelled mob who invaded the US Capitol, or threats of more armed insurrection this weekend and around the inauguration on Wednesday that have prompted an unprecedented lockdown in Washington, thousands of national guard troops activated to prevent disruption.

“This isn’t their Republican party any more,” the president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr, said of moderate Republicans at a rally that preceded the insurrection. “This is Donald Trump’s party.”

Against them stands the traditional wing of the party, figures such as the outgoing Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and the No 3 House Republican, Liz Cheney, keen to put Trump in the rearview mirror and forge a credible challenge in the 2022 midterms.

That bloc includes congressmen such as Adam Kinzinger, a Trump critic from Illinois who was asked by the New York Times if Republicans were expecting the acrimony of recent months to continue.

“Hell yes we are,” said one of 10 Republican congressmen to vote for impeachment this week.

Asked how he thought the moderate wing could limit or eliminate Trump’s cast-iron grip on the party, Kinzinger said: “We beat him.”

Trump, who is reported to be mulling another run at the presidency in 2024, if he is not convicted in the Senate and barred from holding office, has amassed a huge war chest from supporters who thought they were donating to the failed efforts to overturn the election result.

Even if he does not run again, family members are predicted to carry the torch. His daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, have bought property in Miami with an eye to challenging Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican senator, in 2022. Despite recent fealty, Rubio has a history of speaking against Trump.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, holds up a Stop the Steal mask while speaking with fellow first-term Republican members of Congress.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, holds up a Stop the Steal mask while speaking with fellow first-term Republican members of Congress. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Such intra-party battlegrounds are expected to include Wyoming and South Dakota, where Cheney and the No 2 Senate Republican, John Thune, have drawn Trump’s ire.

Cheney, the daughter of the former vice-president Dick Cheney, is facing calls to resign from colleagues angered by her accusations of betrayal by Trump and her vote for impeachment.

Thune, one of the first Republicans to publicly acknowledge Biden’s general election victory, is likely to be “primaried”, an aggressive campaign by members of a politician’s own party to replace them as a candidate in upcoming elections.

“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,” Thune told the Times.

Many eyes, meanwhile, will be on the fortunes of newly elected rightwingers and fierce Trump apologists such as Marjorie Taylor-Greene, a QAnon conspiracy theory supporter from Georgia, and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, a gun rights supporter who has threatened to bring her weapons into the House.

Related: 'I’m facing a prison sentence': US Capitol rioters plead with Trump for pardons

Senior Republicans, including McConnell, are seeking to prevent more extreme politicians from seeking higher office. Scott Reed, a McConnell ally and former Republican strategist, told the Times: “In 2022, we’ll be faced with the Trump pitchfork crowd, and there will need to be an effort to beat them back.

“Hopefully they’ll create multi-candidate races where their influence will be diluted.”

The Trump camp is also looking for revenge beyond Washington. Efforts are under way to oust governors in Arizona, where Doug Ducey was criticised for certifying Biden’s victory, and in Georgia, where Trump has called for Brian Kemp to resign.

Georgia elected two Democratic senators earlier this month, taking control of the chamber away from Republicans. Trump is furious at Kemp and other officials who in an explosive phone call resisted his demand that they “find” enough votes to overturn his presidential election defeat in the state.