Eric Davis: We’ll know Trump’s strength in two years
Gov. Phil Scott was asked at his Jan. 15 press conference whether the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 had made him question his allegiance to the Republican Party. Scott responded that the Republican Party needed to decide whether, going forward, it would be a party defined by loyalty to Donald Trump as a person, or by support of traditional Republican principles such as small government and economic opportunity.
A few days after the events of Jan. 6, the Vermont Legislature adopted a resolution condemning the storming of the Capitol Building as an attack on democracy. The resolution also condemned Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of a free and fair election, and called for him either to resign or to be removed from office. A large majority of Republican legislators supported this resolution, with only about a third of the House GOP caucus noting their dissent from it.
Phil Scott is the only Vermont Republican who has won a statewide election since 2010. For much of the past decade, Republicans have struggled to win a third of the seats in the Legislature. In both 2016 and 2020, Donald Trump’s share of the vote in Vermont was the lowest in any jurisdiction other than the District of Columbia.
In spite of these facts, many of those who are most active in the Vermont Republican Party apparatus are strong supporters of Trump and a Trumpist approach to politics. Scott would prefer to see someone other than Deb Billado as chair of the state Republican committee, but he probably does not have the support among the members of that body to oust her. Indeed, the chair of the Essex Republican Committee posted an online petition a few weeks ago demanding that Scott leave the Republican Party.
Similar developments are occurring nationally. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, whose position as the third-ranking member of the House GOP leadership was confirmed on a secret ballot vote of her colleagues last week, has continued to speak out in defense of her vote to impeach Trump. On a Sunday news show, Cheney said, “We should not be embracing the former president. Somebody who has provoked an attack on the United States Capitol to prevent the counting of electoral votes, which resulted in five people dying, who refused to stand up immediately when he was asked and stop the violence — that is a person who does not have a role as a leader of our party going forward.” These remarks came one day after the Wyoming Republican Party censured Cheney for her support of Trump’s impeachment.
Meanwhile, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who was removed from her committee seats by the House because of her racist and conspiratorial statements and social media posts, and her past endorsement of violence against elected officials, continues to tie herself closely to Trump. “The party is his,” she told reporters at a press conference. “It doesn’t belong to anybody else.” Greene also said that she planned to visit Trump soon at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Trump has reportedly told associates that he plans to resume holding rallies in the next few months, focused particularly on attacking Republicans who supported his impeachment, or who, in his view, did not do enough to throw their state’s electoral votes from Biden to Trump. Trump is said to be looking to recruit 2022 primary challengers to Rep. Cheney, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Trump also plans to become actively involved in open-seat Republican primaries in many states, such as for Senate in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and in gubernatorial primaries in Arizona, Arkansas and Pennsylvania.
When the 2022 Republican primary cycle is over, we will have a much better sense of whether the GOP in many states remains a mainstream conservative party, or has become part of a Trump cult of personality.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.
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