Miami Herald

Despite being out of office, Trump’s grip on GOP appears to tighten

- BY JILL COLVIN AND STEVE PEOPLES

Donald Trump and his supporters are intensifyi­ng efforts to shame — and potentiall­y remove — members of their party who are seen as disloyal to the former president and his false claims that last year’s election was stolen from him.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the House, risks losing her leadership post amid her increasing­ly public dispute with Trump. In Utah, Sen. Mitt Romney, a rare Trump foe in the GOP, faced the indignity over the weekend of reminding a booing crowd that he was once their presidenti­al standard-bearer. And in Texas, the only openly anti-Trump Republican in a crowded special election for a congressio­nal seat finished a lowly 9th.

Trump left office nearly four months ago with his reputation badly damaged after a mob of his supporters waged a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol to prevent the certificat­ion of election results. But the recent developmen­ts suggest a revival of his political fortunes in which those who refuse to go along with his falsehoods find themselves on the defensive.

“It’s scary,” said Michael Wood, the Texas Republican congressio­nal candidate who based his campaign on a vow to push the GOP past the “cult of personalit­y” that is Trump. In the end, he garnered just 3% of the vote in Saturday’s special election, while two Trump supporters, including one he endorsed, will advance to a runoff.

Trump’s grip on the party might only tighten in coming days.

Adding to his flurries of press releases, his powerful Facebook account could be reinstated this week if a quasi-independen­t oversight board rules in his favor. Meanwhile, Republican­s in Virginia will decide whether to nominate a vocal Trump supporter for governor in one of the few marquee elections on the calendar this year.

An important signal of the party’s direction may come on Capitol Hill, where Cheney’s future is in question.

The Wyoming congresswo­man, the most senior Republican to call for Trump’s impeachmen­t, has insisted that the party must reject the former president’s lie that the election was somehow stolen. There is no evidence to support Trump’s allegation­s of mass voter fraud, and numerous audits, Republican state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said the election was fair.

But Trump has stuck to his story and issued a “proclamati­on” Monday attempting to co-opt the language his foes use to brand his falsehoods.

“The Fraudulent Presidenti­al Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!” he wrote.

Cheney, who has not ruled out a 2024 run herself, fired back.

“The 2020 presidenti­al election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system,” she tweeted.

Clearly she has no intention of scaling back her criticism, even as she faces the possibilit­y of losing her leadership post.

Cheney survived an earlier attempt to oust her from leadership, but it could be different this time. GOP leader Kevin McCarthy stood by her earlier this year, but he has declined to defend her from the latest round of attacks as he faces conservati­ves restive for her removal. That’s a sign of McCarthy’s own calculatio­ns as he works to stay close to Trump while also trying to extend a wider tent to help his party win general elections.

In Utah over the weekend, a roomful of Republican­s had rained boos down on Romney before trying unsuccessf­ully to censure him for backing Trump’s impeachmen­t.

“Show respect,” the crowd was reprimande­d by the state party chair. Romney reminded them that he was a lifetime conservati­ve and their presidenti­al nominee in 2012 – and told them Republican­s would only hurt themselves by attacking each other.

“If we divide our party, we’re going to be a losing party,” he said.

 ?? J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE
AP, file 2021 ?? Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, tweeted Monday: ‘The 2020 presidenti­al election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.’
J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE AP, file 2021 Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, tweeted Monday: ‘The 2020 presidenti­al election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.’

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