Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida who was belittled and then defeated by Donald Trump in the 2016 election primaries, came to embrace the president, defending him even after his impeachment.
But Friday morning, following the invasion of the US Capitol Building by pro-Trump supporters, Mr. Rubio called on his party to chart a new course that no longer indulges in “the darkest instincts” and “the most destructive impulses”.
“Not long ago, we controlled the House, the Senate and the White House,” Rubio said in a video released by his office. “And, four years later, we lost all three. We need to think about why this has happened, because this country needs a viable and attractive alternative to the agenda of the radical left.
Mr Rubio’s call for a reset came after a week in which a Republican president who refused to accept his electoral defeat prompted a mob assault on the US Capitol building, and the party has lost control of Congress following two losses in the Senate Georgia.
A civil war has opened within the party between defiant Trump loyalists and a growing body of critics, and between Republican lawmakers and their disillusioned corporate donors. The party is divided over whether to engage with or stand in the way of the incoming Joe Biden administration.
Adding to these dilemmas is the question of the party’s relationship with Mr. Trump and his family once he leaves office. Members of the First Family have repeatedly threatened to crush any Republican who does not support the president’s efforts to overthrow the election.
The conservative electorate, meanwhile, remains in tune with the outgoing president. According to a YouGov poll released Thursday, only 27% of Republicans viewed the attack on Capitol Hill as a threat to democracy, while 45% approved of the storming of congress halls.
“There is a very high tension between the conscience of MPs and what their constituents want,” said Brendan Buck, former senior Republican congressman and partner at Seven Letter, a Washington consulting firm.
“I hesitate to think that this is going to bring about any real radical change.”
Senior Republican lawmakers who have tolerated, collaborated with, and praised Mr. Trump over the years suddenly turned on him, including Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, and Paul Ryan, the former President of bedroom. Meanwhile, John Boehner, who led the Republican-controlled House of Representatives during Barack Obama’s tenure as Tea Party lawmakers, laid the groundwork for Trumpism, made his own call for change.
“I said once that Lincoln and Reagan’s party was going for a nap. Nap has become a nightmare for our nation. The GOP must wake up, ”Mr Boehner wrote on Twitter. “The invasion of our Capitol by a crowd, prompted by the lies of some in charge of power, is a shame for all those who sacrificed themselves to build our Republic”, he declared.
But the question of whether the Republican Party can use the fall of Mr. Trump to unite around a return to his beginnings is debatable. In the House of Representatives, a majority of Republican lawmakers voted to reject Arizona’s electoral vote count even after rioters stormed Congress. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, the architects of the rebellion against the legitimacy of Mr Biden’s Senate victory, both of whom harbor presidential ambitions in 2024, do not repent.
Tony Fratto, a former senior Treasury and White House official under George W. Bush, says the split within the Republican Party dates back to the mid-2000s and has grown steadily since. But Mr Asset took him to uncharted territory.
“He really made the popular force of this party a cult of personality,” Fratto said. “And unlike any other president who has lost, he has no intention of leaving the arena. And he does not intend to stop his leadership of this faction of the party. So I think it’s going to be very difficult, ”he said.
Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican representative from Florida, said the majority of his former GOP colleagues in Congress have come to accept the reality that Trumpism is no longer a “long-term strategy” for the party.
“Many members [of Congress] will tell you that they knew that day would come and that most of them certainly feel a lot more political freedom to speak out and act against the president, ”Curbelo said.
That trend, he said, had already started last month when Republicans in Congress helped override Mr. Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act and denied Mr. Trump to increase stimulus payments in a new coronavirus relief bill.
“What happened this week was just an accelerator,” he said.
But republicanism may have been transformed by Mr. Trump. While on low taxes and deregulation there is broad agreement, the US president’s protectionist, isolationist, and xenophobic trade and immigration policies are hated by some and encouraged by others in the Republican ranks.
Meanwhile, the party’s relationship with business interests and donors are under great pressure. In the wake of Wednesday’s attack, several donors and longtime supporters of Mr. Trump have said they will no longer support the president and will not back him if he chooses to run again in 2024.
“You cannot be associated with this. . . It is unequivocal what happened and it is unequivocally who is responsible for it, ”said David Tamasi, a fundraiser for Mr. Trump. “[Josh] Hawley, [Ted] Cruz and [Donald] Trump has no place in the 2024 discussion, ”he added.
“The desecration of the Capitol will not be forgotten,” said Dan Eberhart, who donated more than $ 100,000 to Mr. Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign. “It cost Senator McConnell his leadership position and now he’s shitting all over the Capitol – I think that’s a pretty strong statement about what President Trump thinks of the Republican Party.
Republican efforts to bring the GOP back to a moderate, center-right party after Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012 failed and paved the way for Mr. Trump’s rise to power. Some critics have pointed out that while Mr Rubio has opened the door for new thinking, he has also not been able to totally reject the president.
“If Rubio is to be a leader in the party and get him to a place where he can be both principled and effective and attractive to people who call themselves Republicans, it takes a lot of work. You know it won’t happen with just a video, ”said Fratto.
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