The seven Republican senators who broke rank by voting to convict former president Donald Trump at his impeachment trial faced immediate hostility and criticism from fellow conservatives revealing the potentially high cost of opposing Trumpism within the party.
These senators – North Carolina’s Richard Burr, Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy, Maine’s Susan Collins, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Utah’s Mitt Romney, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey – brought the total number of guilty votes to 57. That was not nearly enough to secure a conviction, but easily enough to ensure instant attack from fellow Republicans and others on the right.
Thereaction was a powerful illustration of the strength of Trump’s grip on the Republican party even though he is out of office.
“Let’s impeach RINOs from the Republican Party!!!” Trump’s son and conservative favorite Donald Trump Jr said on Twitter, using the insulting acronym for Republicans In Name Only.
The instant backlash came from powerful rightwing media figures also.
Conservative Fox News host Laura Ingraham commented: “Prediction: none of the Republicans who voted in the affirmative today will speak at the 2024 GOP convention.”
For Cassidy, there was almost instant retribution in his own state. Jeff Landry, the Republican attorney general of Louisiana, tweeted: “Senator Bill Cassidy’s vote is extremely disappointing.”
The local party agreed and its executive committee unanimously voted to censure Cassidy for his vote. “We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the vote today by Sen. Cassidy to convict former President Trump. Fortunately, clearer heads prevailed and President Trump has been acquitted of the impeachment charge filed against him,” the Republican Party of Louisiana similarly said in a statement.
Cassidy was not alone, as Burr’s state party in North Carolina also went immediately on the attack.
Michael Whatley, North Carolina Republican Party chair, condemned his colleague in a statement, saying: “North Carolina Republicans sent Senator Burr to the United States Senate to uphold the Constitution and his vote today to convict in a trial that he declared unconstitutional is shocking and disappointing.”
Even Republicans who voted to acquit Trump were not necessarily spared from conservative backlash, including Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. The lawmaker said that he voted to acquit over a jurisdictional issue and because Trump was no longer in office, McConnell didn’t think impeachment was in its purview.
However, McConnell also firmly criticized Trump following the acquittal, saying “there’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically, and morally, responsible for provoking the events of the day” and that he’s “still liable for everything he did while he’s in office. He didn’t get away with anything yet.”
Trump’s circle was displeased at the lack of fealty, despite the vote to acquit.
“If only McConnell was so righteous as the Democrats trampled Trump and the Republicans while pushing Russia collusion bullshit for 3 years or while Dems incited 10 months of violence, arson, and rioting. Yet then he just sat back and did jack shit,” said Trump Jr.
These attacks come as party-line Republicans have ratcheted up their efforts to unseat dissenting conservatives in upcoming primaries. The ten House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are already seeing primary opponents trying to unseat them and replace them with Trump loyalists.
Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican congressman and dogged Trump loyalist, even flew to Cheyenne, Wyoming in late January to hold a rally against senior Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney who backed impeachment.
“Defeat Liz Cheney in this upcoming election,” Gaetz commented, “and Wyoming will bring Washington to its knees. How can you call yourself a representative when you don’t represent the will of the people?”
Gaetz also described Cheney – the daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney – as “a Beltway bureaucrat turned fake cow girl that supported an impeachment that is deeply unpopular in the state of Wyoming.”