A torrent of impeachment developments has triggered a reckoning in the Republican Party, paralyzing many of its officeholders as they weigh their political futures, legacies and, ultimately, their allegiance to a president who has held them captive.
President Trump’s efforts to pressure a foreign power to target a domestic political rival have driven his party into a bunker, with lawmakers bracing for an extended battle led by a general whose orders are often confusing and contradictory.
Should the House impeach Trump, his trial would be in the Senate, where the Republican majority would decide his fate. While GOP senators have engaged in hushed conversations about constitutional and moral considerations, their calculations at this point are almost entirely political.
Even as polling shows an uptick in support nationally for Trump’s impeachment, his command over the Republican base is uncontested, representing a stark warning to any official who dares to cross him.
Across the country, most GOP lawmakers have responded to questions about Trump’s conduct with varying degrees of silence, shrugged shoulders or pained defenses. For now, their collective strategy is simply to survive and not make any sudden moves.
This account of the anxiety gripping the Republican Party is based on interviews with 21 lawmakers, aides and advisers, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly.
Trump has been defiant in his defense, insisting his conduct with foreign leaders has been “perfect” and claiming a broad conspiracy by the Democratic Party, the intelligence community and the national media to remove him from office. Yet few Republican lawmakers have been willing to fully parrot White House talking points because they believe they lack credibility or fret they could be contradicted by new discoveries.
“Everyone is getting a little shaky at this point,” said Brendan Buck, who was counselor to former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). “Members have gotten out on a limb with this president many times only to have it be cut off by the president. They know he’s erratic, and this is a completely unsteady and developing situation.”
Republican officials feel acute pressure beyond Trump. The president’s allies on talk radio, Fox News Channel and elsewhere in conservative media have been abuzz with conspiratorial talk of a “deep state” coup attempt and accusations that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and House Democrats are corrupting the impeachment process.
The GOP’s paralysis was on display this past week in Templeton, Iowa, where a voter confronted Sen. Joni Ernst (R) at a town hall meeting Thursday over her silence about Trump’s conduct.