• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Trump acquittal further polarizes Republican party

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Now that former President Donald Trump has been acquitted by the Senate in his second impeachment trial, the Republican Party finds itself at a crossroads. Does the parry support Mr. Trump going forward? Matt Gorman, a former aide to Republicans Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, and CBS News political contributor Lynda Tran join CBSN for a closer look.

Video Transcript

ERROL BARNETT: Hey there, everyone. Welcome back. I'm Errol Barnett, and this is CBSN. The Republican Party appears to be at a bit of a crossroad right now, to support former President Trump going forward or not. That's the key question. On one hand, Mr. Trump received more votes than any GOP candidate in history in the 2020 election, 74 million. But on the other hand, many people still believe he is responsible for the deadly January 6 attack on Capitol Hill, despite his acquittal by the Senate over the weekend.

Now, seven GOP senators voted to convict Mr. Trump for inciting an insurrection that day. Top Republicans are now sharply divided though over Donald Trump's future influence over the party. For more on all this, let's bring in Lynda Tran and Matt Gorman. Matt is a former campaign aide to Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. He's also a Republican strategist. And Lynda is a CBS News political contributor and Democratic strategist.

A warm welcome to you both on what is a major topic in Washington right now. And Matt, I want to start with you. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said yesterday, quote, Donald Trump is the most vibrant member of the Republican Party, and that the Trump movement is alive and well. Do you agree with that assessment? And is the party thriving at this moment?

MATT GORMAN: Well, I think it remains to be seen in terms of where Donald Trump's future is in the party. Let's remember, we haven't heard from him since election day, which I, quite frankly, found surprising. Will that-- will he emerge now that the impeachment trial's over, we will see. But to the extent he wants to get involved is really the question.

And look, I think broadly, these types of crises or identity crises aren't uncommon to folks who lose the presidency. I should say parties who lose the presidency. The US Democrats four years ago, you could see the same type of hammering that you do now among Republicans.

ERROL BARNETT: So then, Lynda, from a strategic point of view, how do Democrats capitalize on this friction, which-- which as Matt says, is expected after an election loss, what's-- what's the political calculus going forward to benefit from this for Democrats?

LYNDA TRAN: Well, Errol, I think, first, Democrats were really clear that part of the reason for pushing very hard for the trial in the first place was the feeling that this story, what happened on January 6, really needed to be told to the American people. You know, we forget, those of us who are obsessed with what's happening in politics, watched the play-by-play and were very, very concerned about every last detail. But the vast majority of people watching from home needed to know exactly how bad it got that day and what the implications could be for the future.

The fact that the vote ended up at 57-43 this past weekend doesn't change the fact that it's still important for Democrats to tell the story of what happened to make sure that people understand what the stakes are for the country moving forward when you had a sitting president incite an insurrection. You know, I think the other piece, of course, here is that as we look ahead to 2022, which sounds like it's a distant future for most people, is actually just around the corner. You know, Democrats are taking stock of what happened and trying to make sure that they understand the lessons that took place during the 2020 cycle to make sure that the margins aren't as tight, and that they're in a much stronger position come 2022.

ERROL BARNETT: And Matt, on that point, what will Republicans be doing as they set the foundation for 2022? Because the-- the unresolved question is was Donald Trump a net benefit and positive for Republicans in general. The opposing party to the-- the incoming president usually does well in a midterm election, but in many ways, this battle, political battle over Trump, is unresolved.

MATT GORMAN: but I don't think that's going to be the main issue in 2022. quite frankly. I think we're coming out of a pandemic. We have an economic crisis in our hands with joblessness. And a hot topic right now is whether or not schools will reopen.

I think in many respects, an esoteric debate about Donald Trump, a former president, will pale in comparison as making sure that we get life back to normal through vaccinations and get people back to work and get people back into schools. I think that, on either side, is going to be among the top issues in 2022. And I think the party that can best talk about those issues will be the best party that can capitalize.

ERROL BARNETT: So Lynda, I would imagine, based on what Matt's saying there, there's real pressure now on Democratic leadership to either deliver on this COVID relief bill or get schools open safely and somehow study the economy while the Republicans are in this somewhat of an identity crisis. Otherwise, this could be a massive opportunity missed.

LYNDA TRAN: Yeah. I mean, I think there's tremendous pressure, but there's also a tremendous focus in a way that we didn't see with the former administration. Even with this trial going on, even with all of the chaos that happened between election day and inauguration day, the Biden team has been very much focused on figuring out a systematic and effective way of getting COVID vaccinations to the American people. And now, as we've been talking about, this $1.9 billion COVID relief bill is of the utmost importance and clearly a priority.

And the interesting thing, Errol, I would say, is that while we're having a lot of back and forth considering whether or not there's enough support on Capitol Hill, you're seeing a growing cry from GOP mayors and GOP governors that they need this relief bill to get passed. And so there's definitely bipartisan support for it out in broader America that I think that GOP members on the Hill are going to have to take into account as well.

We saw a GOP mayor sign onto a 400-person conference of mayors letter calling for the passage of this legislation, which would include $350 billion in support for states and localities. And you see governors like Larry Hogan of Maryland saying that this is truly important. This is a crisis moment, and this is not the time to debate whether or not the size is the exact right size for the economy.

ERROL BARNETT: And Matt, I just want to ask you about what's happening in North Carolina, because the Republican Party there, as we discuss the pandemic and all these crises, they are expected to vote tonight on whether to censure Senator Richard Burr over his vote to convict former President Trump during the second impeachment trial. What type of precedent might that set, and then how do we make sense of taking that action right now? What does it serve?

MATT GORMAN: I'm not really concerned, quite frankly, about state parties. They're usually a little far right-- or I should say further right than even the normal Republican primary voter. And keep in mind, Senator Burr, it doesn't really matter to him. He's retiring. However, I do think, you know, as Republicans move forward into 2022, one of the things they'll have to keep their eye on, quite frankly, are some of these primaries for Senate in places like North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, where there could be tough primaries from different wings the party.

And to take back the Senate, they need to have someone who can get through and who is electable and who could win the whole state. So that's one thing I would caution our party, as we move forward, to really make sure we're sending out of these primaries electable Republicans. And that's what I would take away from these sorts of interstate actions.

ERROL BARNETT: All right. Very good point there. Lynda Tran and Matt Gorman, always great to speak with you both. Thanks for your time today.