Looking to cement his grip on the GOP despite the party’s losses in 2020, the former President is talking up the possibility that he might run for the White House again in 2024, forcing other potential hopefuls like former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to tiptoe around the huge shadow he casts within the party.
The punitive mood of Trump loyalists was best demonstrated by the GOP delegates at the Utah Republican Party’s organizing convention who booed Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, still angry about his votes to convict Trump in both his 2020 and 2021 impeachment trials. Their jeers grew louder when the Utah Republican told the crowd that he is a person “who says what he thinks” and doesn’t “hide the fact that I wasn’t a fan of the last President’s character issues.”
“You can boo all you like, but I’ve been a Republican all my life. My dad was a governor of Michigan, my dad worked for Republican candidates that he believed in,” Romney said before the audience of party delegates. “I worked for Republicans across the country and if you don’t recall I was the Republican nominee for President in 2012.”
“I understand I have a few folks who don’t like me terribly much and I’m sorry about that,” he added. “But I express my mind as I believe is right and I follow my conscience.”
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, another Republican who has tried to carve out her independence in a party that seems to demand unwavering loyalty to Trump, said Sunday that she was “appalled” to see Romney booed by members of the Utah GOP and she warned that the party should not be led “by just one person,” referring to the former President.
“Mitt Romney is an outstanding senator who serves his state and our country well,” Collins told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.” “We Republicans need to remember that we are united by fundamental principles such as a belief in personal responsibility, individual freedom, opportunity, free markets a strong national defense. Those are the principles that unite us. We are not a party that is led by just one person.”
But the 76% of Republicans or Republican-leaning independents said they did not believe that the Republican Party should penalize officials who have expressed opposition to Trump, and only 20% said they should, according to the CNN poll.
A lonely band of outsiders
At the moment, they are a lonely band of outliers within the Republican Party — and their straddle between standing on principle and staying in power as members of a party where conspiracy theories and lies reign is likely to get more difficult as the 2022 elections heat up.
But even with that pressure, Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is showing a new assertiveness that could serve as a template for other Trump defectors in the Republican Party, even as many members continue to coddle Trump’s lies about voter fraud and the 2020 election.
She has maintained her leadership position, easily surviving on a secret ballot vote in February, even as members privately question whether she can still speak for House Republicans. Last week, when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked at a GOP retreat whether she was still a “good fit” for leadership, he answered: “That’s a question for the conference.”
Most recently, some GOP members were angered by her rebuke of the lawmakers who supported the former President’s attempt to overturn the election results.
“Obviously she’s got to stand before voters, but I think that she certainly doesn’t speak for the vast majority of Republicans or people in my state,” said Hawley, a potential GOP presidential contender.
Greene, a fount of conspiracy theories and fervent Trump supporter, has managed to raise huge sums of money from supporters despite being stripped of her committee assignments earlier this year.
The special election in Texas was an early test of the power of Trump’s imprimatur to sway the results — as 23 candidates vied for the seat vacated by the late GOP Rep. Ron Wright — nearly four months after Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol in their attempted insurrection. The field included one GOP candidate, small business owner and veteran Michael Wood, who has called on Republicans to reject Trumpism, conspiracy theories and QAnon.
As of early Sunday, Wood was not in the running for the second spot in the runoff.
This story has been updated with additional details Sunday.