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Republicans Divided Over Loyalties To Former President Trump

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Crossing former President Donald Trump has consequences. That's what a handful of Republican lawmakers are learning - a small group who blamed Trump for the violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The majority of Republicans in Congress continue to defend President Trump in the face of a second impeachment and look to punish those Republican officeholders who do not. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Former President Trump's fiercest supporters are already working to make fellow Republicans who supported impeachment pay a price. To that end, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz headed west yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MATT GAETZ: I love Wyoming.

(CHEERING)

GONYEA: Gaetz held a midday event outside the Wyoming Capitol Building to rally voters in this conservative state against Congresswoman Liz Cheney, one of 10 Republicans who joined Democrats to impeach Trump two weeks ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.

GAETZ: If you want to prove that you have the power, defeat Liz Cheney in this upcoming election, and Wyoming will bring Washington to its knees.

(CHEERING)

GONYEA: Gaetz says he'll support an outsider who runs against Cheney in 2022, and he wants her immediately removed from her post among the Republican House leadership. Meanwhile, Steve Bannon, the former top adviser to Trump and a recipient of a presidential pardon, has endorsed a candidate in western Michigan to take on Congressman Peter Meijer who also voted to impeach. Bannon is using his daily podcast to recruit other challengers.

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STEVE BANNON: And I think the best thing to do is get great candidates up there and primary them now. And what we're going to do is provide a platform for that.

GONYEA: Party leaders aren't thrilled with this kind of infighting. On top of that, the GOP has members in Congress who ascribe to conspiracy theories like QAnon, which RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel this week called dangerous. Republicans also just lost control of the Senate, with Trump himself adding to their troubles by repeatedly attacking the credibility of Georgia's voting system in the midst of a runoff election. Pete Seat is a Republican strategist and a former Indiana state party executive. He says there's something that any party that loses an election needs to do - honestly assess what went wrong.

PETE SEAT: They're not taking the time to sit down and say, OK, how do we make sure this doesn't happen again? What do we have to do? What constituencies are we not reaching out to? What policy should we be putting forward to attract these voters?

GONYEA: Republicans appear to be skipping that after Trump's loss because so many party officials either believe or support the lie that he didn't really lose. Seat, who worked in the George W. Bush administration, says it's clear Donald Trump will continue to have an outsized influence in party politics, no matter how this second impeachment trial turns out.

SEAT: He's diminished in terms of platform at this moment, but not diminished in the sense that we're continually talking about what impact he will have moving forward.

GONYEA: And Trump's huge presence may endure as a possible future candidate or not.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.