At CPAC, Donald Trump targets the Republican Party of Liz Cheney and Mitch McConnell

ORLANDO – After a brief hibernation, Donald Trump is making clear he is going after his political opponents – many of whom are Republicans.

Trump used his first post-presidential speech Sunday to rip GOP lawmakers who backed his impeachment, and pledge to defeat them in future elections likely to be shadowed by in-fighting that could undermine the party’s chances to win back Congress.

“Get rid of them all,” Trump told cheering delegates at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Trump’s list of GOP enemies includes congressional leaders like Liz Cheney and Mitch McConnell, both of whom held him responsible for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol designed to overturn his election loss to President Joe Biden.

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Despite a second impeachment over that incident, polls show that Trump retains enough clout in the Republican Party to threaten establishment members. The question, analysts said, is whether he and allies build a good enough organization to prevail in Republican primaries, particularly against the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment.

“Trump has the advantage here,” said Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman and now a conservative critic of the ex-president and his followers. “If they can find ten good candidates, all 10 who voted to impeach should lose. GOP primary voters are with Trump.”

He also said: “But does he have the focus? Who knows?”

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Some Republicans said the party is undergoing a natural churn, looking for the best ways to approach the 2022 congressional election and, eventually, the 2024 challenge to Biden.

“Strong speech by President Trump about the winning policies of his administration and what the party needs to unite behind moving forward,” tweeted former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a potential 2024 presidential candidate herself.

“The liberal media wants a GOP civil war,” she added. “Not gonna happen.”

The Anti-Trump 10: House members who voted for impeachment

Trump spent a lot of time attacking Biden during the CPAC speech, but reserved special venom for the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach and are up for re-election next year.

“The RINOs that we’re surrounded with will destroy the Republican Party,” Trump said, employing the acronym that stands for “Republicans In Name Only.”

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Feb. 28, 2021, in Orlando, Florida. (Photo: John Raoux, AP)

As CPAC delegates booed, Trump called out the names of the 10 House Republicans: Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, David Valadao of California, John Katko of New York, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, Dan Newhouse of Washington, Fred Upton of Michigan, Peter Meijer of Michigan, Tom Rice of South Carolina, and – last but not least in Trump’s mind – Cheney.

Trump commented at length on Cheney, the Wyoming representative and third-ranking House Republican, calling her “a warmonger, a person that loves seeing our troops fighting.”

Cheney has not backed away from her vote to impeach Trump, saying his lies about a “stolen election” provoked the mob that violently attacked the U.S. Capitol. “I don’t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country,” Cheney told reporters last week.

Former President Trump speaks to a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida, promises not to start a new political party.


Trump and the Senate Republican Seven

Trump also attacked senators who voted to convict him – but only one of them, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, is up for re-election next year.

Two of the other GOP senators who went against Trump have announced their retirements: Richard Burr of North Carolina and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah – who also voted to conviction Trump of his first impeachment, on charges of pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son – isn’t up for re-election until 2024.

The three other Senate Republican impeachers – Susan Collins of Maine, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana – just won re-election in November, and won’t face voters again until 2026.

Trump has spent more of his time attacking a GOP senator who just won re-election: McConnell, the Republican leader who plans to active role in party efforts to retake control of the Senate in next year’s elections.

McConnell voted to acquit Trump in the impeachment trial but, he said, because he didn’t believe the Senate had the authority to try an ex-president. McConnell still condemned Trump’s role in the insurrection, calling him “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”

Trump responded with a written statement calling McConnell “a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” who would lead Republicans to defeat.

Trump did not directly attack during his CPAC speech, instead claiming – questionably – that his endorsement propelled McConnell to victory in the November election.

Trump supporters at CPAC booed the mention of McConnell’s name.

Trump and Republican primaries

It’s never good for a political party when prominent members fight each other in public, especially in election years. Primaries often weaken the eventual winners ahead of general elections, and divide the party involved in terms of voter support and raising money.

Trump’s participation in the 2022 Republican primaries could, in the end, drive anti-Trump voters to switch parties or not vote at all in general elections.

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Noting that “you need two sides for a civil war,” political analyst Stuart Rothenberg predicted that Trump “will only push more Republican officeholders and voters away from the party.”

“Yes, that should help the Democrats in 2022 and 2024,” he said, “if only in keeping the 2020 anti-Trump coalition together, with some new reinforcements.”

Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida, said Republican infighting – and Trump’s attacks on the election process – seemed to affect turnout in two Georgia Senate runoffs held on Jan. 5.

Democrats won both Georgia races, giving the party control of the U.S. Senate.

“The danger to the GOP in competitive districts,” she said, “is that disunity can also tamp down turnout.”

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