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Infighting Continues Within GOP Following Trump Impeachment Trial

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump exposed a rift in the Republican Party. Trump remains a dominant GOP figure, even as some in the party want to put him in the past. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The Republican infighting is happening at every level - national, state, local. Among the most prominent of Donald Trump's unwavering supporters is U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: To the Republican Party, if you want to win and stop a socialist agenda, we need to work with President Trump. We can't do it without him.

GONYEA: Graham, who spoke on "Fox News Sunday," was reacting to GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, who opposed impeachment but still put blame for the U.S. Capitol attack squarely on Trump. Trump lashed back in a statement calling McConnell, quote, "an unsmiling political hack." Graham says Republicans need Trump to win, but GOP Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who voted to convict Trump, told NPR that Trump is no winner.

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BEN SASSE: And in just one term, the Republican Party has lost the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate. That hasn't happened since Herbert Hoover got shellacked in 1932.

GONYEA: Sasse, by the way, has been censured by several county GOP organizations in his home state. Polls show that pro-Trump forces are the vast majority of the GOP, putting the likes of Sasse at a huge disadvantage when it comes to influencing future party path. Political scientist Janine Parry at the University of Arkansas notes that the GOP may not be thinking so much about that long-range future because right now, the party is in a really strong position at the state level. Currently, Republicans have total control of the legislature and governorship in 23 states, compared to just 15 for the Democrats.

JANINE PARRY: This is all part of the hyperpolarization that's happening nationwide.

GONYEA: Parry says that GOP advantage on the state level gives them a leg up in things like redistricting and writing laws governing election rules, both of which can help win elections. And she says, don't discount the intense loyalty of the Trump base. For a Republican to oppose Trump is to face a backlash that could well include a challenger in the next primary.

PARRY: If you're going to break with the Trump brand, Trump might not even have to come after you. But Trump's voters and other Trump allies might come for you on their own.

GONYEA: Another thing Donald Trump did in the past four years was to consolidate his control over GOP organizations all across the country. And those groups are stepping up to defend him. In Pennsylvania, the Washington County GOP voted to censure Republican Senator Pat Toomey for his vote to convict Trump in the impeachment trial. David Ball is the county party chairman. He spoke to KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh.

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DAVID BALL: We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the right thing or whatever he said he was doing. We sent him there to represent us.

GONYEA: But watching all this in Pennsylvania's Erie County is a moderate Republican state senator named Dan Laughlin. He says the party's future is not to tether itself to Donald Trump, but he keeps any criticisms he has of Trump somewhat muted. Laughlin says Republicans need to focus more on the everyday needs of their constituents.

DAN LAUGHLIN: We as a country need to get back into the center of politics where we can get along respectfully and have civil discourse without being angry at each other. That's what I think America needs right now.

GONYEA: But at this moment, the Republican Party, which seems to be proudly the party of Trump, is nowhere near ready to heed such advice.

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

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