The Republicans vying to replace Trump, from Ted Cruz to Marjorie Taylor Greene

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Joe Sommerlad
·6 min read
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Ted Cruz, front, followed by Josh Hawley, walk from the House Chamber following a Senate procession carrying boxes holding Electoral College votes to the House Chamber for a joint session to confirm the Electoral College votes, on Wednesday 6 January 2021, in Washington ((Associated Press))
Ted Cruz, front, followed by Josh Hawley, walk from the House Chamber following a Senate procession carrying boxes holding Electoral College votes to the House Chamber for a joint session to confirm the Electoral College votes, on Wednesday 6 January 2021, in Washington ((Associated Press))

With Donald Trump gone from the White House and Mitch McConnell demoted to Senate minority leader after the Georgia runoffs, the Republican Party finds itself in search of fresh leadership.

Further complicating the picture is the sharp divide within the GOP exposed by the US Capitol riot on 6 January, which saw fringe voters still loyal to Mr Trump ally with extremists movements like QAnon, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers to ransack the legislature, earning the condemnation of its more moderate wing embodied by the likes of Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.

Mr Trump’s returned to the limelight this week to call Mr McConnell a “dour, sullen and unsmiling political hack” underscored not just that division but also the fact that the ex-president is likely to play kingmaker on the sidelines for some time to come, even if he decides against running for the Oval Office again himself in 2024 as he has hinted he might.

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“There are a lot of great polls out there,” he told Newsmax on Wednesday, still relishing his lingering popularity, which saw him secure 74m votes in November’s election despite losing to Joe Biden.

Here’s a look at the Republicans jostling for control of Trumpism without Trump in the month since his departure for Palm Beach.

Ted Cruz

The Texas senator has had a disastrous 2021 so far and was this week widely attacked for jetting out on holiday to the Mexican beach resort of Cancun while his state battled power cuts, water shortages and sub-zero temperatures after being blasted by brutal winter storms.

As has been pointed out, Mr Cruz’s behaviour was worthy of Diamond Joe Quimby, the corrupt Kennedy-esque mayor of Springfield in The Simpsons, and exposed his hypocrisy anew after he had lambasted Austin mayor Steve Adler for taking a vacation in December and only this week urged Texans to stay at home and “Keep your family safe”.

Like Mr Trump, Mr Cruz has also been accused of inciting the Capitol riot by announcing his intention to challenge the certification of the election results in the Senate just prior to the deadly violence getting underway.

Democratic progressive congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went so far as to accuse the senator of “trying to get me killed” by goading on the mob with his support for the president’s bogus election conspiracy theories.

At Mr Trump’s impeachment trial last week, an undeterred Mr Cruz made a point of illustrating his boredom with proceedings he claimed to believe were “unconstitutional” by tweeting about breast milk and political correctness, a performative snub calculated to appeal to disenfranchised MAGA voters still keen to “the swamp” drained.

Mr Cruz has also played to the same base by embracing popular “culture war” narratives like defending actress Gina Carano after she was dismissed from the Star Wars franchise, attacking “leftist Hollywood” and by brawling with liberal celebrities on Twitter like Seth Rogen (an encounter in which he came off much the worse).

He even named the family poodle “Snowflake” as a provocation.

But the senator’s loyalty to the deposed president is odd given that they were bitter rivals for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, with Mr Trump even stooping to tweet that his opponent’s wife, Heidi Cruz, was less attractive than his own spouse, Melania Trump.

Josh Hawley

Like Ted Cruz, the Missouri senator had planned to protest the certification of the election results in Congress, pictured raising his fist in a salute of solidarity with the pro-Trump mob just before they laid siege to the US Capitol, a picture to live in infamy among many on a deeply shameful day for democracy.

Mr Hawley has since played the victim, claiming he has been “cancelled” after the publishers Simon & Schuster decided to drop his forthcoming book attacking “Big Tech tyranny”, labelling the decision “Orwellian” and appearing on the massively widely-watched cable channel Fox News to complain, absurdly, that he is being “silenced”.

Also like Mr Cruz, Josh Hawley sought to broaden his appeal to yesterday’s Trump voters by signalling his disdain for the impeachment trial, making a great show of bringing papers to review while pointedly ignoring the case for the prosecution being made (very compellingly) by the House impeachment managers.

Lindsey Graham

While the boorish behaviour of Messrs Cruz and Hawley will not appeal to all conservatives, the South Carolina senator represents a much slicker proposition.

Like Ted Cruz, he is a former 2016 rival of Mr Trump’s who has drastically reinvented himself as an apologist for all things Trumpism, having won the president’s admiration after staunchly defending US Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh against a historic sexual assault allegation at his Senate confirmation hearing in 2018.

Mr Graham has since bonded with the former real estate mogul over golf and is reportedly set to visit him at Mar-a-Lago to patch up old wounds, just as House minority leader Kevin McCarthy leader has done.

He has also been appearing on Fox News night after night this month to rubbish the impeachment trial, a move that will doubtless have pleased nobody more than Mr Trump himself.

Marco Rubio

A third member of the class of 2016 with fantasies of one day winning the presidency is the Florida senator, who joined the above in voting to acquit the former president last weekend.

But the latter could face a more immediate threat in his own backyard from another member of the Trump dynasty, his daughter Ivanka, who has been widely tipped to launch her own bid for the Senate as a Republican insurgent candidate to overthrow Mr Rubio.

His spokesman, Nick Iacovella, recently insisted the pair have met and agreed a non-aggression pact but a lot could happen between now and the 2022 midterms.

Marjorie Taylor Greene

The Georgia congresswoman and QAnon believer has made serious waves in her opening weeks in the House of Representatives after submitting articles of impeachment against President Biden on his first day in office for a lark.

A wealth of her alarming past comments have since come to light - including video of her harassing anti-firearms activist David Hogg - forcing the party to reprimand her by voting to relieve her of her committee assignments.

The most overtly Trumpian of this lineup, Ms Taylor Greene has worn “Stop the Steal” face masks around DC, pitched herself as “the anti-AOC”, called for Pride and Black Lives Matter flags to be banned from US embassies and recently since marked the third anniversary of the Parkland high school massacre by calling for more guns in classrooms, not fewer.

But she is also just one of several attention-seeking Trumpoid representatives among the House Republicans, with the likes of Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Lauren Boebert, Doug Collins and Louie Gohmert all courting the same MAGA audience with a beady eye on the future.

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