Brandi Kruse: Politicians are powerless to save the GOP

UNITED STATES - December 10: Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., speaks during a news conference in Washington on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

As she plunged Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial into chaos, Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler urged her fellow Republicans to follow suit.

"If you have something to add here, now would be the time," Herrera Beutler wrote in a statement that sent House impeachment managers scrambling.

Just as the Senate was poised to acquit Trump of inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the congresswoman from Washington’s 3rd District released her account of a conversation with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. She recounted what McCarthy told her about a phone call with then-President Trump as the House and Senate chambers were under siege.

"When McCarthy finally reached the president on January 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was Antifa that had breached the Capitol," Herrera Beutler wrote. "McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’"

2021/01/06: Protesters seen all over Capitol building where pro-Trump supporters riot and breached the Capitol. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

To House managers, the statement confirmed the central theme of their case: that President Donald Trump knew his own supporters posed a threat to lawmakers, but refused to intervene as the siege unfolded.

They rushed to set the groundwork to call Herrera Beutler as a witness, but in the end realized it wouldn’t be enough to sway Republicans and would only serve as a prolonged distraction to President Joe Biden’s agenda.  

A vote went ahead. The Senate acquitted.

In truth, it wasn’t the first time Herrera Beutler shared her recollection of the McCarthy conversation. She had done so several times prior.

So why repeat it?

At the eleventh hour, Herrera Beutler was giving an ultimatum to her party – the equivalent of "Speak now or forever hold your peace."

"To the patriots who were standing next to the former president as these conversations were happening, or even to the former vice president: if you have something to add here, now would be the time."

As her call to action went unanswered, Herrera Beutler solidified her place in a growing segment of the GOP: those despised by supporters of the 45th president.

How she landed on that list is irrelevant. Republican politicians have found many ways to gain the ire of Trump’s base.

There are the "Never Trumpers" like Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who fought against a Trump presidency from the beginning.  

Others, like Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois), avoided throwing bombs at the onset of Trump’s 2016 campaign, but went on to become vocal and consistent critics.

For some, all it took was refusing to play patsy. Vice President Mike Pence, a loyal Trump soldier for four years, found himself threatened with hanging for refusing to intervene in the results of the election.

In the case of Congresswoman Herrera Beutler, it was her vote to impeach President Donald Trump over the Capitol riot. The same is true for U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a conservative Republican from Washington’s deepest red district.

Both voted for Trump in November. Both supported his agenda for four years. But both voted to impeach – an act considered unforgivable to Trump’s most diehard supporters.

"Washington Republicans are turncoats," a social media commenter wrote. 

"They are Democrats regardless of the letter after their name," wrote another. 

Such comments were endless. 

"They can kiss their careers goodbye."

"Swamp creatures jumping ship to try to preserve their place in the swamp. Disgusting."

"They may as well run as Democrats now because they will not get voted in by any true patriot."

Much of the debate over the future of the GOP has centered on what path Republican lawmakers will choose. The belief is that if more, and more powerful, politicians speak out against Donald Trump, the Party will veer back toward its core principles.

But it is too late for that.

Such arguments fail to recognize who truly has power to dictate the party’s fate. 

It isn’t Herrera Beutler. Or Newhouse. Or any of the other Republicans who voted to impeach.

It isn’t Romney. Or Senator Susan Collins. Or the handful who voted to convict.

It isn’t Nikki Haley, who offered a rebuke of Trump this week as she sets her sights on 2024.

For better or worse, Trump’s most loyal base of supporters will decide whether the GOP can continue to exist.

And Democrats could not be more thrilled.

The truth is – Donald Trump is the best thing that ever happened to the Democratic Party. Politically speaking, the Capitol siege is a close second.

With 2022 Midterms on the horizon, Republicans who dared speak ill of or act out against Trump will see attacks from two fronts.

Trump himself is likely to seek revenge – hand-selecting primary opponents to challenge those who wronged him. And while Democrats praise the courage and conviction of lawmakers like Herrera Beutler, it is only a matter of time before they pounce.

Few will be able to survive the onslaught should Trump’s base refuse to put anger aside – even if it means handing Republican seats over to actual Democrats.

Perhaps no one realizes the pull Trump has more than Congressman Kinzinger, whose own family members denounced him in a blistering (and frankly heartbreaking) letter.

Left: Rep. Adam Kinzinger R-Ill. | Getty Images Right: President Donald Trump | White House Flickr

"It is now most embarrassing to us that we are related to you," the January 8 letter from his cousins read. "You have embarrassed the Kinzinger family name!"

Forget putting Trump before country. This was Trump before FAMILY.  How does one fight against a force like that?

You don’t. You can only wait to see whether the force dissipates.

But let’s be clear, the anti-Trump wing of the party isn’t the only faction that faces a reckoning.

Even politicians who have remained loyal to the former President cannot survive a split party – one so bitterly divided that its voters would choose to lose everything, simply out of spite.

So perhaps Herrera Beutler’s words in the final hours of the impeachment trial were not intended as a call to action. But rather, as a warning for posterity – a warning that not even silence could save them from the coming storm.

And when the clouds finally part, those who once considered themselves Republicans will be left to rebuild. Maybe they can create something better.

In the meantime, Democrats will be busy basking in the sun.