Clip: Why some Republicans are finally speaking out against Trump's future in the party

Nov. 25, 2022 AT 1:33 a.m. EST

A rift is growing among Republicans over the party’s current and future leaders. This week, prominent members of the GOP called on the party to put former President Trump behind them after multiple election losses. Still, Trump remains popular among many in the base which will be critical to winning the presidential nomination.

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Yamiche Alcindor: Now, back here in Washington, a rift is growing among Republicans over the party's current and future leaders. Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy's bid to become House speaker is in jeopardy. Last week, he won enough votes to be nominated for the role by his party but he still needs to get 218 votes on the House floor. And so far, it is just not clear he can get that many because some Republicans, mostly from the House Freedom Caucus, have said they will not support him.

This all comes as the course of prominent Republicans calling on the party to put former President Trump, that's Donald Trump, of course, behind them is getting louder.

Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH): Let's stop supporting crazy unelectable candidates in our primaries and start getting behind winners that can close the deal in November.

Fmr. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI): I am a never again Trumper. Why? Because I want to win and we lose with Trump. It was really clear to us in '18, in '20 and now in 2022.

Yamiche Alcindor: Still, Trump remains popular among many in the GOP base, which will be critical to winning the 2024 presidential nominees.

And so, Susan, back to you. You interviewed former Vice President Mike Pence. What did your interview reveal about what Mike Pence thinks about the future of the Republican Party and maybe his own ambitions?

Susan Page: Well, Mike Pence thinks there is an opening for himself and that the era of Trump voters just might be willing and able at this point to say that's over now. He might turn out to be wrong about that but he sees an opening for himself. He is critical of Trump, not Trump policies but of Trump himself, in a way he, of course, never was as vice president.

And you do hear a rising chorus, was just heard from people former Speaker Ryan and from former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie a willingness to criticize Trump that we have not seen since he won the nomination in 2016.

Is that enough to convince Republican voters to defeat Trump in a primary, to choose somebody else, Ron DeSantis or whoever, as their nominee? I don't think we know that yet. But we know that there is a new vulnerability surrounding Donald Trump that wasn't there before.

Yamiche Alcindor: I also have to ask you of former Vice President Mike Pence. He was pretty hard on the January 6th committee in other interviews. He was also saying that he doesn't -- he was at least saying, and at least in part, when asked, does Trump bear some criminal responsibility, he said, look, he's not sure because Trump was listening to bad lawyers. What do you make of that given the fact that Mike Pence was running for his life on January 6th?

Susan Page: Yes, his life, his family's life and put in peril by the president, by the former president. Well, I think Mike Pence is trying to have it both ways. He is trying to be critical. He is trying defend the action he took on January 6th, which so dismayed Donald Trump, while also appealing to Trump voters. And that is threading a needle that I think is very difficult, indeed, and we will see if he can do that.

Yamiche Alcindor: And, Toluse, we, of course, covered former President Trump together, some interesting days we had together. I wonder if you could talk about how real you think this break from Donald Trump, or at least attempted break from Donald Trump is, given the fact that we have seen Republicans sort of go away and then come right back at times to Trump when it is clear that the base is still with him.

Toluse Olorunnipa: Yes, Yamiche. You remember the former president, when he was running for president in 2016 and when he became president, he told voters and Americans that they would never get tired of winning. And now, after successive losses for the Republican Party in 2018 and 2020 and 2022, there are a number of Republicans that are getting tired of losing. And they are being open about criticizing the former president, criticizing a lot of suburban and moderate voters.

Now, as you mentioned, the president continues to have support among his base, he continues to be the one Republican who can bring out thousands of people to gather and rally for him. And so that is a formidable thing in the Republican caucus, especially at a time when the party is somewhat fractured, it doesn't have a lot of alternatives, and has a number of people that are trying to be that alternative. And when you have multiple people splitting a vote against former President Trump, who has his base that is going to be with him no matter what, he could have a glide path to the nomination just based on the fact that even if you get 30 percent or 35 percent, and they are rock hard, rock solid supporters, and you have five other people who are also running for the nomination, who split up the vote, it can be difficult for anyone else to stand a chance.

So, I would not count the former president out as a formidable Republican potential nominee, as someone who continues leads the party in a number of different ways and continues to have sway over everyone in the party, especially in Congress, so I --

Yamiche Alcindor: I want to ask you, if you could, what do you make of former President Trump also sort of continuing to punch back? What does that it tell you about sort of his plan, briefly, if you could?

Toluse Olorunnipa: Yes. He will continue to be the fighter, the pugnacious former president that he has been as long he has been a politician, as long as he has been a businessman. He wants to punch back harder than anyone can punch him.

So, he is looking and taking names and I would expect him to be very vicious towards other Republicans to who try to cross him and try to take advantage of the fact that there are a number of people who don't see him as strong as he was when he was president.

Yamiche Alcindor: And, Heidi, we are seeing some Republican donors say they don't want to be with him, but you are also seeing this sort of grassroots effort to vilify anyone who sort of goes against his election deniers. So, I'm thinking about Arizona, where you have Bill Gates, who was a high-ranking official there working in the election system. He had to go end up basically hiding because of what was happening with people attacking him. What does that sort of tell you about where the Republican Party is?

Heidi Przybyla: Well, look a lot of these folks lost, the election deniers in position of authorities, such as governor or overseeing elections, but they didn't lose by much. And there are a lot of people who feel very strongly and believe, in fact, that the elections are rigged and are being stolen.

I was out there in Arizona at a polling precinct where one of the tabulators just wasn't printing accurate tick marks and a gentleman came outside to identify himself as a poll worker and started working up the crowd about how maybe their ballots wouldn't be counted if they were put into the ballot box, which was unbelievable, given this has always been the process that they do.

But the point, to answer y our question, is that it is pervasive. A lot of these folks lost. But what was that? Why was that? Was it because Trump wasn't drumming it up and supporting them every step of the way? There's a lot of indication based on my reporting that because he was quiet and these folks were kind of out on a limb in the end there, they all just conceded, but it could have gone so very differently.

Susan Page: But I've got to say, the best thing that happened in this election, to my mind, is there were 13 people running in the six battleground states for jobs that would have given them oversight of elections, 13 and 13 lost.

And we've got some election deniers elected in six Republican states, that's not a great thing, but it's not so dangerous. The idea that we did not -- we as a country did not elect election deniers in the states that will determine the next presidential race is, I think, the most important thing that happened on Election Day.

Heidi Przybyla: It is huge. It's huge. Some of them were elected to Congress. We have like a much higher number in Congress right now. But to Susan's point, they are not in positions of authority to oversee elections in 2024, which -- it makes a huge difference. And we may have really averted a constitutional crisis.

Yamiche Alcindor: And I want to, of course, turn to the other thing that we've talked about, which is part of the fallout of the midterms is that Kevin McCarthy, Susan, is going to have the time of his life getting these 218 votes to be House speaker. What is your sense of his strategy to get there and what might happen if he doesn't get those votes?

Susan Page: Well, he is going to work pretty hard between now and January 3rd because he's got just no cushion, he's got no room for error. And we will see what kind of commitments he needs to make to the Freedom Caucus and to others to nail down their votes.

So, I think it is entirely possible he is not elected speaker because you don't need to defeat him with somebody, you just need to deny him a majority of those present in voting. And at the moment, if the election were today, he would not get there.

Yamiche Alcindor: He wouldn't get there.

Toluse, we only have about 30 seconds left, but I want to just bring you in. What is your sense of how the White House is viewing all of this given the fact that President Biden is trying to figure out how to deal with his agenda as all of this plays out?

Toluse Olorunnipa: Yes. You hear from White House officials that President Biden has worked with members of the Republican Party in the past, that he's passed more than 200 bipartisan bills during the first two years. So, they are optimistic that they will be able to get things done, but they are also bracing for impact because they know Republicans want to investigate everything about his administration and his family. And so they are waiting to see how aggressive the Republicans will be when it comes to the oversight of the Biden administration.

Yamiche Alcindor: And, Heidi, the slim majority that Republicans, it mirrors the slim majority that Democrats have. I think it's so interesting that our country is sort of swinging which is a little to this side and then a little to that side. What do you make of that?

Heidi Przybyla: Well, with redistricting, it probably would be very different if we did not have the maps drawn the way that they're drawn. And I think we need to look at the popular vote in terms of making those determinations.

But, look, to Toluse point, they are going to use that to just do the investigations because this majority is going to make the tea party look like they were really easy to manage for John Boehner. Just the concessions that they are going to demand of McCarthy, if he makes it, he's already had to cut a deal with Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is now saying -- telling everyone, look, I'm going to have a lot of power. And you see him already going back on some of the things that he said, like impeaching Mayorkas.

Yamiche Alcindor: Yes. Well, lots to definitely watch.

Thanks so much to our panelists for joining us and for sharing your reporting.

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