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Former President Donald Trump’s supporters are mobilizing to exact revenge on the 10 House Republicans who supported impeachment last week, thrusting the GOP into a civil war just as party leaders are trying to move on from the Trump era.
Pro-Trump Republicans are racing to launch primary challenges. The former president’s donors are cutting off the Republican incumbents. And Trump’s political lieutenants are plotting how to unseat them.
The unrest shows how Trump is all but certain to cast a shadow over the Republican Party long after he’s left the White House. Trump has split the GOP, pitting his loyalists against those who say he incited the Capitol Hill insurrection and want to expunge him from the party.
Whether the Trump-inspired primary challengers succeed is far from clear. Dislodging an incumbent is notoriously difficult, and Republican leaders are expected to move aggressively to protect their members. But the early activity illustrates the degree to which Trump’s staunch allies are determined to make his critics pay a price.
“The stance taken by Liz was very contentious here in Wyoming,” said Republican Bryan Miller, a retired Air Force officer expected to run against Rep. Liz Cheney, a House GOP leader who vocally supported Trump’s impeachment. “This isn’t going to be a passing thing that just goes away. It’s growing and growing and growing every day across the state. People are unhappy.”
Miller isn’t alone. Cheney has drawn opposition from several other Republicans, including state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, who has called Cheney “out of touch” for her criticism of the former president.
Newly elected Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan, another impeachment backer, is getting challenged by Afghanistan war veteran Tom Norton, who has appeared on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast to promote his candidacy. Gene Koprowski, a former official at the Heartland Institute think tank, is already running against Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger. In Ohio, former state Rep. Christina Hagan is not ruling out a primary bid against Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez.
“I have never seen a greater amount of backlash for any one single vote taken by any one single member of our Republican congressional delegation in Ohio,” said Hagan, who lost a primary to Gonzalez when the seat was open in 2018. “I have heard from Republicans in positions of power, within party leadership and all the way across the spectrum to faithful volunteers and business leaders throughout the region who are expressing serious frustration and distaste.”
Pro-Trump donors are joining the assault. Suzie Burke, a Seattle real estate executive who has contributed to Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) in the years before the congresswoman’s impeachment vote, said she would “not be helping people who chose to rush to such placating the other side of the aisle.”
Hossein Khorram, a Washington State-based former Trump finance committee official who gave more than $100,000 to pro-Trump causes during the election, said he was also shutting off the spigot.
“I personally know those Washington State members of Congress who voted to impeach Trump. Our friendship will continue but no more financial support from me. In my view they just retired from Congress,” said Khorram, a real estate developer who has previously given to Rep. Dan Newhouse, another Republican in the state who supported impeachment.
Deep-pocketed outside groups are also engaging. Chris Ekstrom, the chair of the Courageous Conservatives political action committee, said his organization would be focusing on defeating Cheney, Gonzalez, and South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice.
“All of them are vulnerable. Some things stick in politics and I think this outrageous betrayal will,” said Ekstrom. “Examples will be made.”
Ekstrom, a Dallas investor, said he was beginning to reach out to Texas-based Trump donors to raise money for the effort.
People close to Trump say he is particularly fixated on the Republicans who backed impeachment and is determined to take them out. The former president has raised more than $200 million since the election, much of which has been directed into a new committee than could be used to back primary opponents. Trump aides have also been at work creating a political apparatus that can be deployed in the 2022 elections.
While Trump is gone from the White House, Republican still face a conundrum: How to mollify his tens of millions of supporters, many of whom remain convinced that the election was stolen and insist that Trump isn’t to blame for the Jan. 6 riot. Party officials concede that they need to keep Trump’s loyalists in the fold and say failure to do so will complicate their political fortunes in 2022 and beyond.
With the Senate impeachment trial looming, attention is shifting to Republican lawmakers in that chamber who must decide whether to vote to convict Trump. Several incumbents face potentially challenging general election contests, and their prospects could be further complicated by primary fights. Trump has already said he wants to oust red-state Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and John Thune (S.D.) for not supporting his drive to subvert the election results.
But some Republicans argue that any political fallout for impeachment supporters will be short-lived. They insist that among GOP voters there’s been widespread revulsion over Trump’s role in the uprising and say that many are in favor of impeachment.
Rice, a five-term South Carolina congressman from the conservative northeastern part of the state, said most of the people he’d heard from had expressed disapproval for his vote. But he said he’d also gotten positive feedback from hundreds of people across the country, including some who offered campaign contributions.
“There are a number of people who have expressed their displeasure obviously and others who are happy with a vote of principle. I didn’t swear an oath to Donald Trump, I didn’t swear an oath to the Republican Party, I swore an oath to defend the Constitution. That’s what I intend to do,” said Rice.
The Trump forces will face high hurdles in defeating any of the pro-impeachment Republicans. Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, raised nearly $3 million during the 2020 election cycle and is certain to have a substantial campaign account in 2022. Cheney is also a well-known commodity in the state: She is the daughter of former vice president and ex-Wyoming congressman Dick Cheney.
The rush to take on Cheney may make it harder to unseat her — a trend that may play out in other districts, too. With multiple candidates in the race, the primary challengers face the prospect of splintering their support and giving the three-term congresswoman an easy path to victory.
Complicating matters further is redistricting, the once-in-a-decade drawing of congressional lines which will determine where House candidates seek election. Hagan said she was waiting for clarity on how Ohio’s map would be reconfigured.
But even at this early stage of the midterm election cycle, the impeachment vote is looming large in the minds of Republicans.
Rice said he did not want to offer advice to senators on how they should vote in Trump’s upcoming trial. But he noted that the Capitol siege had imperiled the lives of lawmakers, including many who had been loyal to the president. The congressman recalled sheltering in a saferoom, not knowing if someone outside had a weapon. All the while, Rice said, Trump was doing nothing to quell the violence.
“If that’s not high crimes and misdemeanors, I don’t know what is,” Rice said. “I don’t know what it would take.”