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Examining The Fault Lines Of The Republican Party

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Even before the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the Republican Party was in crisis. The GOP has failed to get a majority of votes in seven of the last eight presidential elections. And Donald Trump is now the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose the White House, the House and the Senate in one term. NPR's Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The Republican Party is reeling. There are fault lines in every direction between the grassroots and the establishment, between big donors and aspiring presidential candidates, between House and Senate leaders. Republican pollster Frank Luntz says he's seen intraparty battles before.

FRANK LUNTZ: But this one is so deep and so polarizing, and people are so passionate about it, I don't know how you heal it. I don't know how you bring these people together.

LIASSON: The biggest internal division right now, says Luntz, is between Republicans who voted for impeachment and voters who opposed it.

LUNTZ: Forty-three percent of Donald Trump's voters say that they will definitely vote against any candidate who voted for the impeachment. That makes it impossible for Republicans to put together a majority by 2022. And, in fact, that's a direct threat to the existence of the Republican Party overall.

LIASSON: And at the January 6 rally, Donald Trump and his son Don Jr. threatened to primary any Republican who failed to back his effort to have Congress overturn Joe Biden's election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP JR: This isn't their Republican Party anymore.

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: This is Donald Trump's Republican Party.

LIASSON: And that's one of the reasons that even after the violent insurrection at the Capitol, two-thirds of House Republicans and eight senators voted to throw out the election results. To Stuart Stevens, a former Republican consultant and current adviser to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, those votes show that the rift in the party is much deeper. Stevens says it's between authoritarians and those who believe in democracy.

STUART STEVENS: I think it's just a straight-up red line. This is so much greater than any differences over tax policy or trade policy. It's a fundamental belief in whether or not you want to continue the American experiment. A large portion of the Republican Party has decided they are for democracy if it means they win, and they're against it if it means they lose, which is to say you don't believe in democracy.

LIASSON: These splits are playing out not just on Capitol Hill but among Republicans all over the country. Just ask Jean Evans.

JEAN EVANS: I am a former state legislator in Missouri and recently resigned as executive director of the Missouri Republican Party.

LIASSON: Evans stepped down at the end of last year after getting pressure to support Trump's efforts to overturn the election.

EVANS: The demands that we stand up and support Trump and facilitate these sort of actions became increasingly hostile and frightening. And then when I saw the president tweeting for everyone to come to D.C. on the 6, I thought, what is he doing?

LIASSON: In Missouri, just like nationally, polls show that around 70% of Republicans believe the lie that the election was stolen from Donald Trump. The party is split between those who accept reality and those who don't. Evans thinks that's a problem only Trump can fix.

EVANS: For the party to move forward, the best thing that could happen, really, would be for Trump to speak to his supporters and tell them that he accepts the results. They should, too.

LIASSON: Trump has condemned the violence at the Capitol, but he hasn't acknowledged that Biden won legitimately. Barring that, Stuart Stevens thinks the only solution is for voters to reject Republicans just like they rejected Trump.

STEVENS: You have to beat them. The United States Capitol was taken over by a terrorist gang of cop killers. And the Republican Party still has not come to grips with what that means. If you can be president of the United States and incite a right to oppose legal action and take over the Capitol, and that's not a high crime and misdemeanor, I'm not sure what is.

LIASSON: But other Republicans think the party can heal itself. Ralph Reed, the leader of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, says the party has and will continue to reject violent actors but that it has to work with those who believe the lie that the election was stolen.

RALPH REED: They're going to have to be accommodated. And they're going to have to find a way, if they want to be effective, to hewn off some of the rough edges. But our attitude needs to be one of welcoming, not pushing them away.

LIASSON: Pushing them away would seem to be out of the question, since they represent such a big chunk of the party's base. But Reed thinks the party can address their concerns and convince them that in a democracy, it's possible for the Republican Party to lose a legitimate election.

REED: Political parties have a very strong instinct for their own preservation. So when a political party is taking a position that marginalizes it, it tends to self-correct. It evolves. It adapts. It becomes what it has to become in order to win and therefore survive.

LIASSON: Regardless of how or whether the Republican Party resolves its internal splits, the process will take time, says Frank Luntz.

LUNTZ: You have a segment of American society that does not accept the election outcome and is going to continue to speak up, is going to continue to agitate. And that's going to make this a very unstable period for months and perhaps even years.

LIASSON: An unstable period not just for the Republican Party but for the American political system as a whole.

Mara Liasson, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.