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With Trump leaving office, what is the GOP’s future?

The events at the Capitol, beginning with a violent mob and ending with the second impeachment of President Trump, have exposed deep rifts in the Republican Party. With Trump set to leave office, we discuss the GOP's future with Lanhee Chen, a Hoover Institution fellow who's advised several Republican presidential candidates, and Gary Abernathy, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The events at the Capitol in the past week, beginning with a violent mob and ending with the second impeachment of President Trump, have exposed deep rifts within the Republican Party.

    With Mr. Trump set to leave office next week, we discuss what's next for the GOP with Lanhee Chen. He's a fellow at the Hoover Institution. He's also advised several Republican presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio. And Gary Abernathy, he's an Ohio based writer and contributing columnist to The Washington Post.

    Hello to both of you. Good to see you. And welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Let me ask you first, before we talk about the future of the party, Lanhee Chen, about what happened last week, the assault on the Capitol and then, just yesterday, the impeachment of the president.

    What's your reaction?

  • Lanhee Chen:

    Well, it's been such a tumultuous and heart-wrenching last week.

    I mean, I think you had a clip earlier of Ken Langone, who said any American who looks at that and doesn't find themselves affected in an emotional way, it's hard to fathom that.

    And I do think that that has really driven some of the changes we have seen in opinion even within the Republican Party, even amongst elected officials who we thought were going to be loyal with Donald Trump to the end. That has really forced a change in thinking, even among some whom we never expected to see that from.

    So, the events of the last week truly have been consequential and important, not just for this moment that we're in, Judy, but also for what is to come for the Republican Party in the months and years ahead.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me try you, Gary Abernathy.

    What's your reaction to what happened last week, the assault on the Capitol, and then the impeachment of the president, second impeachment?

  • Gary Abernathy:

    Well, it was — it was a sad day. It was frightening to watch.

    You know, I think a lot of Trump supporters are kind of torn right now, because they almost feel like they have stood by him for four years, and so they have to keep standing by him. And I think that's the wrong attitude.

    I'm glad Donald Trump was president for four years. But since he lost the election, I'm very unhappy with his behavior since then. I have called on him from the day the race was called for Joe Biden to admit defeat, to accept it, to participate in the transition. And he's just done none of that.

    So, my dividing line with Trump is from the day the election was held, and the voters said, we're going to go a different direction, and he needed to accept that. And so, instead, he's played this whole, the election was stolen, and there's been fraud.

    And none of these things have been proven true. And then you had thousands, tens of thousands of people in Washington who were big supporters of his, and instead of calming them, he helped incite what happened.

    I'm not laying it all at his feet. People who stormed the Capitol are to blame for storming the Capitol. But Donald Trump, as president, I think, had a responsibility to calm those waters, and he went the opposite way. And so he will pay a political price for that, as I think he should.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lanhee Chen, now that he's impeached, we're waiting to see what happens in the Senate.

    How much difference will it make for the party, for him? Clearly, if he's tried and convicted, even after he's left office, that's a huge change in his stature. But what does it mean that he even has to go through this?

  • Lanhee Chen:

    Well, I think the critical question is whether, in fact, he can be convicted and then, subsequently, if there are a majority of senators who wish to bar him from future office. That would be an event of great consequence, obviously.

    I do think, at some level, Donald Trump is going to continue to have influence. I think that influence will diminish as his time in the presidency, as we get further from that time, and as people are able to reflect on just how chaotic not just this post-election period was, but really the entire term of his presidency.

    And thinking about what the lasting impacts of that are on the conservative movement, on the Republican Party, I do expect that support to erode as time goes on. There's still going to be some percentage of Republican voters — there's no question about it — who adhere to President Trump, who believe that he is the right messenger.

    But, certainly, if the Senate does, indeed, vote to convict and subsequently to bar him from office, that would be a major blow, not just to Donald Trump's political fortunes, but also to his personal future, his ability to continue to monetize his time in the presidency, and everything else that he might have wished to do after he left office.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Gary Abernathy, what about that? I mean, how much — how much clout will Donald Trump continue to have? And obviously, some — to some degree, or maybe a large degree, that depends on what the Senate does.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    I think that's true.

    Now, I'm in the camp that agrees with scholars who say, look, the whole idea of impeachment is to remove a president from office. And so he's going to be removed from office by the voters in just a few days. I don't believe you can have an impeachment trial.

    I think — I don't blame the House for impeaching him. I mean, what happened was horrible. But I think there's an emotional impeachment going on right now. I don't think you can convict him after he's no longer in office. There's no point in that.

    But let me tell you something. He still has tremendous support in the Republican Party. Someone asked me, gee, are we going to end up with a Democrat party, a Republican Party, and a Trump party? And I said, well, you could, but the Republican Party is going to be pretty small, because when you look at the polls and see 80 percent, 85 percent support still in the Republican Party for Donald Trump, that's pretty impressive.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lanhee Chen, what does the Republican Party look like with that much support still — I know you both are saying he may lose some of that support, but the numbers Gary is citing are pretty impressive.

    I mean, what does that — where does that leave the Republican Party?

  • Lanhee Chen:

    Yes, they are impressive today. I don't know how durable that support is when the man is no longer in office.

    Fundamentally, I think the challenge for the Republican Party now is this. For last several years, it has been a party essentially supportive of whatever the president and his administration did. And that now leaves them in a position, of course, without power in the executive branch, without power in either branch of Congress.

    And I think the Republican Party has to return to the question of what it's for, what exactly the vision of governance for conservatives looking ahead. And I think that has to be the basis of any electoral renaissance we're going to see for the Republican Party moving ahead.

    And I tend to think that Donald Trump's appeal with the passage of time, with space from the presidency, and everything that we have seen, I think some of that support erodes.

    I think that happens naturally for a lot of politicians who are out of the spotlight in a way that a president is constantly in the spotlight. So, I suppose that what we see today, I don't believe, will be a reflection, necessarily, of where the party stands, let's say, a year or two years from now, when we're in the wake of yet another midterm election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just in literally 15 seconds, Gary Abernathy, Republican Party in some trouble in the months, weeks — months and years ahead because of this?

  • Gary Abernathy:

    Yes, but I do think it's important to remember this.

    The things that Donald Trump, the things that brought him his support, those aren't going away. I don't think Trump will be the messenger for the party four years from now, but I think a lot of the things he stood for will be, and it will just be someone else carrying that mantle.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Gary Abernathy, Lanhee Chen, thank you both very much. Good to see you.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • Lanhee Chen:

    Thank you.

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