Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a member of the GOP leadership team, suggested that the President’s actions and rhetoric were to blame for both costing Republicans their Senate majority and inciting his supporters to storm the Capitol on Wednesday.
“Our identity for the past several years now has been built around an individual,” Thune told CNN. “You got to get back to where its built around a set of ideals and principles and policies.”
But several of Thune’s GOP colleagues, some who privately expressed their frustration with Trump for years, are speaking out more forcefully.
Her fellow South Carolina Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham, echoed Mace’s assessment on Thursday, saying Trump’s role in inciting the mob “breaks my heart” and is a “self-inflicted wound” that will be a stain on his presidency
This new level of anger at Trump indicates how the week’s events have shifted the power dynamics within the GOP.
Despite his defeat, Trump has remained a political force that Republicans felt they could not ignore and certainly not denounce. The President continued to raise millions of dollars to defend his claims he won the election, and his political allies have made threats that Trump will continue to hold sway in GOP primaries outside of office. The looming Georgia runoffs, and with them control of the Senate, offered a justification for humoring Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud.
Now, however, the losses in Georgia and the violent consequence of those claims have drained the outgoing President of his influence among Capitol Hill Republicans and raised questions about the long-term damage he has done to the viability of the party.
“Trump just broadcast the state of the party to every swing voter and affirmed to them that we are f–king insane,” said one Republican campaign strategist.
In particular, Thune pointed to how Trump’s unwillingness to concede hampered the runoff campaigns of GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
“They were playing a really difficult hand, when your most effective argument is you’re going to be a check-and-balance against a Biden, Pelosi, Schumer agenda, but you can’t acknowledge that Biden won,” he said. “It puts you in a really difficult position.”
But Wednesday’s rioting at the Capitol was a final straw for many Republicans — accelerating years of pent-up frustration with Trump into an immediate sense of anger. When asked late on Wednesday what he wanted to hear from Trump, Sen. Roy Blunt did not mince words.
“I don’t want to hear anything,” Blunt said. “it was a tragic day, and he was a part of it.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, a staunch Trump ally, said the President does “bear some responsibility” for the riot at the Capitol. “Certainly he bears responsibility for his own actions and his own words,” he said, adding that Trump was “pouring fuel on a spark” by attacking Mike Pence Wednesday.
“And then just the call to march down the Capitol, it was inciting,” he added. “It was all really awful.”
“I just think we hit bottom. You get that many people together and get them stirred up, you simply can’t control them,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. “This will open up, I think, some backlash, because I don’t think anybody accepts this as a satisfactory outcome.”
So exhausted by the President, Senate Republicans appear to have little energy for acting on or encouraging Trump’s removal before Joe Biden’s inauguration. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the only Republican to vote to remove Trump from office after last year’s impeachment, channeled the Senate GOP’s desire to ride out the final two weeks of the administration.
“I think we’ve got to hold our breath for the next 20 days,” Romney said.
CNN’s Ted Barrett, Ali Zaslav and Sarah Fortinsky contributed to this story.