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Despite a Week From Hell, Donald Trump is Still the Most Powerful Republican in the Party

6 minute read

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His Cabinet is shrinking, his legacy is crumbling fast and his reach to supporters is suddenly and severely limited. As President Donald Trump begins his week, he faces the very real threat of a second impeachment at a Capitol that now looks more like a besieged outpost in a conflict zone than a temple to democracy.

Few Republican lawmakers enjoyed being forced to barricade themselves in offices before fleeing to bunkers last week. The GOP Establishment watched in horror as Trump goaded his supporters to storm the Capitol in an attempt to bully lawmakers to overturn the results of November’s presidential election in multiple states. State legislatures are fielding a shallower bench as lawmakers who participated in the insurrection last week have been forced to resign.

And yet.

That’s a transition I’ve used a lot since Trump came on the scene in 2015 and proceeded to break just about every norm of modern politics. There have been few traditions he hasn’t taken glee in offending or expectations he has failed to meet. He smashed our image of presidential dignity with petty insults, disregard for facts and an open hostility to journalists. Now he’s rendered Washington into an almost unrecognizable place. As the teargas blew away and grounds crews — and some members of Congress — cleared away the literal debris, officials erected black fences around the sprawling Capitol grounds. The area is patrolled by men and women wearing green combat camouflage.

And yet Trump’s hold over fellow Republicans appears to be as strong as ever. Even after a deadly siege, only a handful of lawmakers have come forward to join Democrats in saying it’s time for Trump to leave. The two Cabinet officials who have resigned thus far still peppered their resignations with lavish praise of everything that happened before Jan. 6. And the administration staffers who have stepped down two weeks before they were leaving anyway haven’t exactly taken to the streets to lend voice to a resistance.

In six polls taken since last week’s stunning invasion of the Capitol, the public is roughly split on whether or not Trump should keep his job until his term expires on Jan. 20. Four polls published details on how wide the partisan divide remains: almost a 70-point partisan gap. Roughly four out of five Republicans say Trump should be allowed to stay in office. His removal via the 25th Amendment, which requires a Cabinet vote and the backing of Vice President Mike Pence, or another congressional impeachment and trial are about as equally as unpopular with Republicans.

Those survey findings help explain why so many Republicans lawmakers aren’t ready to jettison Trump just yet. He will lose official presidential power on Jan. 20 but his political clout hasn’t yet been stripped. There is still a vast stretch of this country that believes Trump legitimately won the election on Nov. 3 and should keep fighting by any means necessary to hold onto his rightful place in the White House. You couldn’t watch Fox News last week without some host or another citing the doubts in the election’s accuracy as a reason to storm a seat of government. And yet suspicion is not a substitute for fact.

My pal Amy Walter over at The Cook Political Report makes this simultaneously smart and disturbing observation in her latest column: more than half of Republicans in Congress voted last week to object to certifying at least one of Biden’s wins, 57%. Why? Most of them believed they needed proof for their own future political campaigns that they were among those working to keep Trump in office.

There’s a bleak evolution of the Republican Party in the first quarter of this century. George W. Bush came to power promising compassionate conservatism. John McCain’s campaign ethos in 2008 was Country First. These days, the Republican Party’s slogan might as well be Trump First. And it might be that way for some time given how sticky his appeal among voters is. He can gum this up for years.

Perhaps we should have seen this moment coming. In surveys taken for The Wall Street Journal/ NBC News, there’s been a consistent trend among a significant bloc of voters who said they more closely identified with Trump than with the Republican Party. That loyalty is not easily conferred to someone like current Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who urged Republicans last week even before the riots to stand-down their objections to the election results and heed tradition.

McConnell is, after all, a political tactician; he is a student of the Senate and demonstrates a political shrewdness even his detractors respect. McConnell predicts the pendulum will eventually swing back to normalcy and he wants to be poised to receive its return to more familiar territory. After the riots, McConnell was visibly seething and has been telling friends he would be perfectly fine if he and Trump never again speak. Similarly, Pence hasn’t spoken to Trump since before the riots, after Trump threw him under the bus to supporters for doing his constitutional duty and certifying the election results for Joe Biden in the wee hours of Jan. 7.

If House Democrats keep up their current momentum on impeachment, McConnell may have to communicate with the President at least once more: to let him know that he has again been impeached and will face his trial by Senate. And, once again, Republicans will have to determine whether they think Trump should be removed from power or, as was the case at this time last year, whether he remains too politically popular, even out of the White House, among their constituents to hold accountable.

When the Senate voted last year to acquit Trump, he was riding high with a 93% approval rating among Republicans in Gallup’s survey. Gallup hasn’t updated its numbers this month, but Trump was heading into the end of the year with an 87% job approval number with the GOP in the same survey.

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Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com