Former U.S. president Donald Trump has reportedly thought about launching his own political party, after several GOP leaders criticized him for inciting an attack on the U.S. Capitol over a democratic election he lost.
The ex-president considered calling it the “Patriot Party,” according to a Wall Street Journal report citing several aides and others close to Trump. The White House declined to comment.
Trump floated the idea in the last days of his presidency following his impeachment over the Jan. 6 riot, according to the Wall Street Journal. He raised the notion amid his anger at several Republicans who criticized him for his role in the violence on Capitol Hill, which left five people dead.
A new party would face a steep uphill climb in the United States’ two-party system, but it would also create a major headache for the Republican Party. The GOP is divided over how to deal with Trump’s impeachment and how to move forward — either with or without him — for the next presidential election in 2024. It’s also grappling with a major loss of power, with Democrats now holding control of the House, Senate and presidency.
Some of the Republican Party’s most influential leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have called out Trump for provoking the Capitol attack by pumping up a crowd with falsehoods about the election result.
“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell said Tuesday, on Trump’s last full day in office. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like.”
Trump was impeached on Jan. 13 in the Democrat-held House of Representatives. Ten Republicans also voted to impeach, including Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-most powerful Republican in the House.
A majority of Republicans have remained loyal to their departed leader. Many have tried to downplay, obscure or redirect blame for the riot, while some of Trump’s closest allies have called for “healing” instead of consequences.
It’s unclear whether Trump will pursue his Patriot Party idea, which would take a lot of cash and political wrangling to get off the ground. He still boasts a strong base of supporters who used to hang off his every tweet — before Twitter banned him in the wake of the riot.
He also wielded unprecedented influence among Republicans over the last four years — so much so that the party went into the last election with no platform except to follow Trump’s whims.
Trump retreated from Washington, D.C. to Florida early Wednesday rather than participating in Joe Biden’s inauguration. He made a few remarks at the airport before his departure, although the crowd was relatively small and his now-former vice president, Mike Pence, was not present. Pence chose to attend the inauguration rather than be part of Trump’s farewell.
Trump is the only president to be impeached twice, let alone twice in a single term. He now faces a trial in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. He’s already departed the White House, but a Senate conviction would effectively bar him from ever holding public office again.
That means he wouldn’t be allowed to run for president as a member of the Republican Party, the Patriot Party or any other party.
McConnell helped Trump avoid conviction at the first impeachment trial by calling no witnesses — thereby keeping his fellow Republican in place as president — but it would only take 10 Republicans to vote against Trump this time and effectively end his presidential aspirations, thereby clearing the decks for someone else.
The GOP itself is doing some soul-searching to decide whether it wants to move on or double down on the ex-president and his anti-democratic urges.
“We have to decide if we’re going to continue heading down the direction of Donald Trump or if we’re going to return to our roots,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a potential 2024 White House contender, told the Associated Press (AP).
“The party would be much better off if they were to purge themselves of Donald Trump,” he added. “But I don’t think there’s any hope of him completely going away.”
Trump left office with a 34 per cent approval rating, according to Gallup, and it was the lowest of his presidency; the overwhelming majority of Republicans — 82 per cent — approved of his job performance.
Other potential Republican 2024 contenders, such as Sen. Ted Cruz, have repeated many of Trump’s baseless election fraud claims while courting his devoted followers for the future.
Cruz attended Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday and acknowledged his win, but refused to describe it as legitimate.
Cruz told the AP that Trump would remain a significant part of the political conversation, but that the Republican Party should move away from divisive “language and tone and rhetoric” that alienated suburban voters, particularly women, in recent elections.
“President Trump surely will continue to make his views known, and they’ll continue to have a real impact, but I think the country going forward wants policies that work, and I think as a party, we need to do a better job winning hearts and minds,” he said.
Cruz was also among those who called for Republican senators to let Trump go without punishment for the riot.
“I hope that Republicans won’t participate in this petty, vindictive, final attack directed at President Trump,” Cruz said. “We should just move on.”
Cruz has a well-documented history of forgiving Trump, whom he cozied up to after losing a bitter fight for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. Trump called Cruz’s wife ugly during that race, and also baselessly hinted that the senator’s father helped assassinate John F. Kennedy.
Trump has not publicly declared his plans for the future. He kicked off his post-presidency at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida, where he could easily continue to work on the golf game that he honed during more than 300 days of his presidency.
He also boasts a political war chest worth tens of millions of dollars, which he raised in part through his false claims of election fraud over the last two months.
The “Patriot Party” name would appear to be a nod to the nationalism Trump espoused throughout his term. He occasionally hugged flags and berated Black athletes for kneeling during the U.S. national anthem.
He also reportedly behaved differently in private, mocking fallen U.S. soldiers as “suckers,” hamming it up during the anthem for last year’s Super Bowl and repeatedly declining to confront Russia for putting bounties on American troops in Afghanistan.
While Trump’s future remains unclear, the businessman, former reality TV star and ex-president did not sound ready to fly off into the sunset on Wednesday, when he briefly addressed a crowd of his supporters before the inauguration.
“We will be back in some form,” he said.
—With files from The Associated Press