By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
The acquittal of Donald Trump could be the best thing that could have happened to the Republican Party. It could also be the worst, depending on who you talk to. And this is just among Republicans.
Prominent local Republicans shared wildly differing assessments of the meaning of the former president’s exoneration by the Senate. One said it gave the GOP a strong chance of reclaiming the White House in 2024. Another said it virtually assured the Democratic candidate, most likely Vice President Kamala Harris, would win the election.
Views were likewise mixed about the impeachment process. Some said it had been doomed to failure and only sowed increased hatred and division in the country. Others said it gave Trump a necessary rebuke that would discipline him and ultimately make him a more effective leader. In a sense, the lack of uniformity reflected the broader divisions within the Republican Party about how to navigate its future with Trump.
And yet all of the Republican supporters interviewed described themselves as adherent to the traditional values of the party, such as fiscal conservatism, small government, support for small business and entrepreneurship, and the importance of good moral character, principles that Trump mostly eschewed.
The biggest split was about what the acquittal portends for the future of the party.
Bob Yeh, a real estate developer who has supported both Democrat and Republican candidates but adheres to traditional Republican values, said the acquittal of Trump was the only way the Republican Party would have a chance in the 2024 presidential election. Trump is the only candidate that could muster enough votes to have a shot, given that he garnered almost 75 million votes in the 2020 election, he said.
“There’s no other leader out there that could get such a high level of support,” he said. (Some analysts, however, say that the figure is misleading because of the unprecedented high turnout, and that in actuality Trump only garnered 47% of the total vote, which is about what Gerald Ford mustered when he lost in 1976.)
But W. Walter Liang, a political appointee under George W. Bush, who describes himself as an “old-school Republican,” said he thought the acquittal of Trump could, down the road, hand the White House to Harris.
So fundamentally split is the Republican Party, between those who support and oppose Trump, that if he runs again, it could split the party and allow the Democratic candidate’s victory, he said.
“If he were convicted, he couldn’t run, but now that he’s acquitted, the door’s open,” said Liang. “If he had been convicted, it would have been one more step in the right direction to move on.”
“Now you have a Trump party wanting to surge. There is a strong possibility he’ll run in 2024, and there is a strong possibility the Republican Party might split into two parties.”
Liang compared the likely scenario to when George H. W. Bush was defeated by Clinton as a result of Ross Perot joining the race as a third party and splitting conservative votes that would otherwise have all gone for Bush.
“It’s a distinct possibility,” he said.
Likewise, the impeachment process itself generated different reactions.
Shiao-Yen Wu, a Republican fundraiser and chair of the local chapter of the International Leadership Foundation, a political mentorship program for students, said she did not support the process because it was doomed to failure.
“If we could have voted so that he could never run for political office again, I would have been all for it, but we didn’t have the votes to do it, only seven,” she said. “The majority of senators didn’t want to be retaliated against.”
“Now it just creates hatred and divides the country,” she said.
Liang said he felt the Democratic leadership had been misguided.
“The Democrats tried twice to impeach Trump and lost both times, they could have spent more time on unemployment, transportation, homelessness, and education and other issues that are important to voters.”
But he didn’t think the process contributed to the party’s split.
“It was not that the impeachment divided the Republican Party. The Democrats didn’t have to. Trump divided us,” he said. “There’s a big divide. Trump’s personality defined the GOP, like Reagan.”
Liang said, in order to move forward, the party would have to broaden its base.
“Mainstream Republicans need to rebrand themselves and bring in more people of color and more women into the party.”
At the same time, even while embracing diversity, the party would need to return to its traditions, he said.
“We need to go back to our original values. Fiscal conservatism.
Education. Safety. Jobs. Small business. Entrepreneurship. All that has been divided.”
Still, Yeh said he thought the process could encourage Trump to tone down his rhetoric in the future, which could ultimately be good for the Republican Party.
“I am not 100% convinced by the impeachment managers that Trump’s words actually caused the riot,” he said. “However, he got a slap on his hands and face, so maybe he will have a little bit more discipline so he would not do things just for his ego. You have to think of the entire nation.”
He also hoped the party would embrace its traditional principles, particularly fiscal responsibility.
“If you don’t have it, don’t spend it,” said Yeh.
Along these lines, Wu questioned Trump’s leadership. She describes herself as “more common sense than adhering to one particular party” and said she believes in women’s rights and protecting the environment. But her criticism of the former president stems from her support of the party’s conservative values of frugality and responsibility.
“He hasn’t even done well for himself, he’s gone bankrupt a number of times.”
She also criticized the extravagance of Melania Trump carrying a $75,000 purse as she departed the White House.
“Maybe we need a third party running the country simply as a business,” she said.
But Liang said Trump kept his campaign commitments.
“When President Trump was running for office, he made all those promises, a border wall, control immigration, lower taxes, be proactive for small business, bring back more jobs to the United States and achieve the lowest unemployment rate with more Blacks, and he accomplished all these tasks, but the newspapers never recognized this,” he said. (There is controversy about whether Trump actually achieved these targets. For instance, the tax cuts were skewed towards the rich, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.)
Another result of the acquittal of Trump, however, is that he will be undiminished in seeking revenge against those who opposed him, said Liang.
“In terms of 2022, he is going to be out there identifying candidates to defeat the seven senators who voted against him,” he said.
Current and former local Republican politicians did not respond to attempts to contact them for comment. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, one of 10 Republicans voting to impeach Trump, did not return multiple emails and phone calls to her local and Washington, D.C. offices. She was rebuked by the local Republican Party. During the impeachment trial, she said that she was told by Rep. Kevin McCarthy that Trump supported the mob in their attack on the Capitol, according to the New York Times.
Last week, Trump supporters with a history of violence gathered outside her office in Vancouver to call for her removal.
Mahlon can be reached at email@example.com.