The big story in American politics won’t come Tuesday night. That’s when former President Trump plans to announce his 2024 bid for president.
A more prolific story erupts Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill.
That’s when every reporter with a press credential inside of area code 202 will descend on the U.S. Capitol to pepper every single Republican member of the House and Senate — along with incoming GOP freshman now in Washington for their orientation — if they support former President Trump to return to the Oval Office.
Republicans — even those loyal to former President Trump — generally despised these questions when Mr. Trump occupied the White House. Those lawmakers would shrug off various inquests with refrains like, “I don’t read the tweets,” or “I can’t comment because I haven’t heard that.”
Even if they had read the tweets or heard it….
But away from reporters, many of these Republicans who weren’t true Trump believers and simply embraced the former President for political advantage, seethed privately.
These same Republicans sometimes confided off the record that they were frustrated with former President Trump. They couldn’t stand the former President. Abhorred his conduct. They appreciated some of his policies but couldn’t get over the avarice.
Other Republicans were full-on backers of Mr. Trump. Some rooted him on despite his haughtiness over the most miniscule of perceived sleights. Some tried to echo the former President’s malice.
But generally, Republicans hated this exercise as reporters dogged them down the halls of the Russell Senate Office Building after a hearing or confronted them during a press conference in the House Radio/TV Gallery.
These gymnastics return to the Capitol Wednesday.
Republicans could dodge the questions after former President Trump left office. Others were able to dismiss such inquiries after the Capitol riot, saying they didn’t “want to dwell on the past.”
Well, the past, present and future is here once former President Trump officially launches his third candidacy for the White House.
And whether some Congressional Republicans like it or not, the former President is part of that conversation.
Republicans are now trying to figure out how they finesse support for Mr. Trump. Or, again stand foursquare behind the former President. Or, if they tacitly endorse former President Trump, how does that impact them politically going ahead.
The GOP enjoyed one of the best political environments in years. They ran against a President with abysmal poll numbers, rampant inflation and shocking gas prices. And yet Republicans failed to flip control of the Senate and could (COULD) even lose control of the House. Or, just hold a slim majority.
Republicans will tell you off the record that the former president, outlandish claims about the 2020 election, his venomous attacks on people, coupled with the Capitol riot, suppressed some voters from casting ballots for the GOP.
“We won because the American people rejected the kind of autocracy that the MAGA Republican wing of the party was talking about,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “When you engage in violence or accept violence such as January 6th, that is on the edge of autocracy.”
Schumer contends that “the American people said, ‘Whoa. This ain’t for us.’ And that was just not Democrats. Independents and Republicans said it. And it’s one of the main reasons we won.”
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., is retiring. Republicans tapped Trump acolyte Mehmet Oz as their standard-bearer to succeed Toomey. But Oz lost to Sen.-elect John Fetterman, D-Penn.
“Candidates that were seen as ‘ultra’ and all about the previous president and re-litigating the last election — they went down in flames even in many cases where conventional Republicans, including conservative Republicans, were winning big.” said Toomey on Fox.
Freshman lawmakers-elect descended on Washington for their orientation over the weekend. Republicans were still scratching their heads about why the election wasn’t a lay-up, as was promised by so many GOP leaders.
“Maybe Republican voters got overly confident. Maybe candidates got overly confident,” said Rep.-elect Eric Burlison, R-Mo.
But Burlison said he would remain supportive of former President Trump in another White House run.
“I think what this place did to Donald Trump is tragic. And I think that history will reflect that history took a taxpaying businessman and ruined his life,” said Burlison, the Capitol Dome over his shoulder. “I hope that he gets reelected so that he can correct all the wrongs that have happened to him.”
Rep.-elect Cory Mills, R-Fla., took immediate issue with reporters asking about the former President’s newest campaign.
“This is the thing about legacy media,” lectured Mills to the Capitol Hill press corps. “All of you in the media want do create this big rift. And I’ll tell you ahead of time that I’m not going to buy into it.”
Mills accused reporters of making it “a Trump versus (Florida Gov. Ron) DeSantis, thing.”
This is what tears at the seams of the GOP. Some Republicans are ready to continue to defend the former President and are willing to give him yet another shot. In fact, some Republicans view a Trump comeback as redemption after two impeachment trials. Other Republicans want to flee the former President. They’re outraged about his conduct, the siege at the Capitol, questions about how the previous administration managed the pandemic and the longest government shutdown in history.
Some Republicans want to push forward. Not relitigate what happened during the Trump Administration or the past two years.
But even those Republicans who want to put former President Trump in the rearview mirror privately concede they can’t quit him.
One House Republican likened the former president to a “political narcotic. An intoxicant.” That Republican conceded that as much as they’d like to forget Mr. Trump, their constituents certainly wouldn’t. And if that member deviated from any pro-Trump line, there would be a backlash — from their voters, the former president and Trump loyalists.
The conventional wisdom among some political observers is that the “fever” broke in the midterm election. Voters cast their ballots “in favor of democracy” and rebuked the former president. That may have been the immediate outcome of the election, determining which side won or lost. But it didn’t address where Republican members of Congress were with their constituents when it came to former president.
And those are the questions Republican lawmakers and incoming freshman will face Wednesday morning.