An early Trump supporter’s message to the GOP: Get rid of him –

A screen displays a photo of former President Donald Trump during the final public meeting of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. (Haiyun Jiang /The New York Times)

The biggest threat to Donald Trump’s hold on the Republican Party has always come from the ranks of his own supporters, rather than those who always disliked him. Therefore, it is significant that one of his early backers turned against him.

In February 2016, when Rep. Tom Marino became one of the first Republican members of Congress to endorse Trump, he called the decision “one of my life-changing moments” and praised the presidential candidate as a fresh voice. that he was not indebted to Wall. Street.

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At the time, Trump was still locked in a tight nomination battle with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and was struggling to attract support from elected officials. Marino, a former prosecutor who represented a rural district in northern Pennsylvania, not only supported him. He was a strong and proud Trump supporter who helped run his campaign in the state and joined his presidential transition team after he won.

Trump expressed fondness for Marino and Lou Barletta, a member of Congress and co-chair of Trump’s Pennsylvania campaign, calling them “thunder and lightning.”

As president, Trump appointed Marino to be director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, though Marino withdrew after his history with opioids was questioned. He resigned from Congress in 2019 shortly after beginning his fifth term, citing recurring kidney problems.

During this year’s Republican gubernatorial primary in Pennsylvania, Marino harshly criticized Trump for refusing to endorse Barletta, who lost that race to Doug Mastriano. Now, he’s urging his fellow Republicans to keep going.

“I think the Republican Party has to do whatever it takes to get away from Trump,” Marino said in an interview. “Certainly, I think, it has cost the party losses in this election that we had in November. I am deeply disappointed in him.”

In an unpublished letter he shared with The New York Times, Marino criticized Trump for “acting like a childish bully” by attacking Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom the former president called “Ron DeSanctimonious” when Republicans began rallying around to a possible alternative for 2024.

To secure his support, Marino wrote, Trump would have had to “grow up and act like president and refrain from calling potential candidates derogatory names.”

Trump, he added, “has thrown several people who were near him under the bus”; “He has no idea what loyalty means”; and “seriously lacking in character and integrity.”

“I will not support Trump, in fact, I will campaign against him,” Marino’s letter concluded. “Our country deserves a person who is mature, respects others and is honest to lead our nation.”

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump keeps sinking

The evidence that Trump is weakening within the Republican Party is mounting by the day, and Marino’s letter is just the latest indicator.

“Republican primary voters are moving,” said Mike DuHaime, a Republican strategist, nodding to Trump’s worsening poll numbers in the hypothetical 2024 matchups. “They are exhausted from having to defend their every word and actions,” he added, and they want “similar policies and fighting without all the drama.”

Consider the party’s half-hearted reaction to Monday’s big news: the committee’s Jan. 6 call for the Justice Department to impeach Trump. The panel also issued a damning 154-page executive summary of its final report, which is released in full on Wednesday.

“That evidence has led to an absolute and direct conclusion: the central cause of January 6 was one man, former President Donald Trump, who was followed by many others,” the summary reads. “None of the events of January 6 would have happened without him.”

Trump responded with typical bragging. “These people don’t understand that when they persecute me,” he posted on Truth Social, “people who love freedom gather around me.”

He continued: “It strengthens me. What does not kill me makes me stronger.”

No sign of that so far. As Maggie Haberman writes in assessing the damage caused by both the former president’s recent actions and the committee’s investigation, “Trump is significantly diminished, a reduced presence on the political landscape.”

Two potential presidential contenders, former Vice President Mike Pence and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, took the position that Trump had acted recklessly on January 6, though they argued that he should not be criminally prosecuted.

In the Senate, Trump also did not receive much political coverage on Monday. Only one Republican senator, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, has endorsed his presidential bid.

“The entire nation knows who is responsible for that day,” Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill. “Beyond that, I don’t have any immediate observations.”

Sen. John Thune, RS.D., said the panel had “interviewed some credible witnesses.” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., criticizing what she called a “political process,” said Trump “bears some responsibility” for the riots.

And even in the House of Representatives, which is still very much Trump country, the reaction was far from a complete, orchestrated pushback.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the top Republican in the House, perhaps aware that he needs moderate Republicans to support his run for president as much as he needs pro-Trump hardliners, said nothing.

McCarthy’s lieutenants dutifully attacked the January 6 panel, but there was no phalanx of pro-Trump surrogates courting reporters on Capitol Hill, no point-for-point rebuttal of the committee’s key findings.

Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who is in charge of messaging for Republicans, posted a single tweet calling the Jan. 6 investigation a “partisan farce.” Rep. Jim Jordan, the incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee, complained that McCarthy had not been allowed to include his allies on the panel, which he boycotted after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected your first two choices. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia went after “communist” Democrats and attacked Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of only two Republicans on the committee, as “whiny Adam.”

More often, Republicans preferred to change the subject to something else: the end-of-year spending bill opposed by many on the right, the recent surge of immigrants along the border, the handling of Twitter of the articles about Hunter Biden’s laptop in 2020 or the effects of inflation. .

Did the January 6 hearings hurt you?

Democrats tend to view Republicans’ attitude toward Trump as cynical in nature rather than principled, recalling how much of the party sided with him early in 2021 and then eagerly sought his endorsement in 2022.

“If the Republican Party had won the House by a wide margin and seized the Senate behind the backs of the Trump candidates, the reaction to these recent issues would be very, very different,” wrote Dan Pfeiffer, former communications director for President Barack Obama. on Tuesday in his Substack newsletter.

What this overlooks, however, is that the January 6 caucus, especially its cleverly produced primetime hearings over the summer, which wowed millions of viewers, appears to have been at least a minor factor in the losses of the Republicans this year.

One of the few polls to try to isolate the question came out this week. In polls commissioned by Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan watchdog group, 46% of voters in five battleground states said the January 6 hearings were a factor in their decision. And a larger group, 57%, said they had had at least some exposure to audiences.

The poll focused on so-called ticket splitters: Republicans and independents who voted for a Democrat in one race and a Republican in another. In Arizona, 20.9% of ticket splitters said January 6 was a major factor in their vote. In Pennsylvania, that number was just 8.5%. Those numbers are quite modest, but every vote counts.

When I recently asked Sarah Longwell, a Republican consultant who has worked to defeat election deniers in places like Arizona and Pennsylvania, to assess the role democracy played in the midterms, she was cautious.

“I think we just won an important battle and sent a message to Republicans that election denial and extremism is a loser with swing/independent voters in states that hold the keys to political power,” he said in a statement. email. But he said it was too soon to say that American democracy was “out of the woods.”

The most potent argument within the GOP base has not been Trump’s behavior in office, but the increasingly mainstream view that his obsession with the 2020 election cost the GOP crucial seats this year.

That might be the most powerful anti-Trump argument of all, said John Sides, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University: that election denial is a political loser.

“All that matters is the performance,” Sides said. “If that perception takes hold, then it doesn’t really matter what the real reason is.”

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