For the first time in more than a decade, Republicans woke up and came to Washington. Democrats controlled the White House and Congress to adapt to the era of weakening power, uncertainty and internal disputes.
The shift to minority status is always difficult, prompting debates over who is to blame for losing the last election. But the process is especially intense as Republicans confront profound questions about what the party stands for without Donald Trump in charge.
Over the past four years, Republican values have been closely linked to the whims of the president, who often undermines democratic institutions and trades the party’s long-standing commitment to fiscal discipline, strong foreign policy, and the rule of law for barbarism. And inconsistent populism. The party is now faced with a decision whether to continue in this direction as requested by Trump’s most loyal supporters or to chart a new course.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, one of the very few elected officials of the Republican Party who often condemns Trumpism, called on President Ronald Reagan to call this moment a “time of choice.”
“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,” Hogan, a potential 2024 White House contender, said in an interview. “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.”
Whether the party continues to move forward may boil down to what Republicans like Texas Senator Ted Cruz have to do next.
Cruz spent several weeks imitating Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud, which contributed to the deadly riot in the U.S. Capitol. Republican election officials on several battlefields chaired by President Joe Biden said that the election was fair. Trump’s claims were completely rejected in court, including judges appointed by Trump.
Cruz acknowledged Biden’s victory on Wednesday, but he refused to describe it as legitimate when pressed. “He won the election. He is the president. I just came from his inauguration,” Cruz said of Biden in an interview.
Looking forward, Cruz said 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,” said Cruz, who is also eyeing a White House run.
After the Capitol riots, a small group of well-known Republicans took a tougher stance against Trump, or distanced themselves from Trump.
The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, said on the eve of the inauguration that the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol was “provoked by the president.” Even Mike Pence, Trump’s vice president and long considered his most devoted cheerleader, skipped Trump’s departure ceremony to attend Biden’s inauguration.