- Veteran GOP congressman Tom Cole warned that the Republican Party faces a worse crisis than it did after Watergate.
- A rift has opened between GOP lawmakers who want Trump’s legacy purged and lawmakers and grassroots supporters who remain steadfastly loyal.
- The GOP was able to bounce back from the scandal that followed the 1970s Watergate scandal quickly, but experts say the problems it faces now are in some ways deeper.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Veteran Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma told The New York Times that the crisis facing the Republican Party in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency is greater than it faced after the Watergate scandal.
“I’ve been in Republican politics for 40 years professionally – so, just after Watergate – and I will tell you this has been the worst period of the entire time,” Cole told the Times.
His remarks come amid chaos in the GOP following Trump’s departure from office.
A rift has between lawmakers who want to distance the party from Donald Trump in the wake of the Capitol riot and his bid to subvert the election and a group who’ve remained steadfastly loyal to the former president.
The party’s congressional leaders, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, laid the blame for the violence at Trump’s feet in the wake of the riot. McConnell signaled he was open to convicting Trump after the House of Representatives impeached him for his alleged role in inciting the riot.
But in the past week, both have shifted their stance, with polls showing the former president remains hugely popular with the party’s grassroots supporters despite his role in inciting the riot.
In an apparent bid to repair relations, McCarthy visited Trump in his post-White House home, Mar-a-Lago in Florida. After the Thursday meeting, Trump’s Save America PAC boasted that the former president’s “popularity has never been stronger than it is today, and his endorsement means more than perhaps any endorsement at any time.”
McConnell has backed away from his pro-impeachment stance, voting last week in the Senate to reject impeachment as the prospect of Trump being convicted in his impeachment trial fades.
Adding to the crisis facing Republicans, Trump has dangled the prospect of starting a third party, the Patriot Party, a move that would likely split the Republican vote leaving it all but impossible to win back Congress in the mid-terms 2022.
The fallout from the Watergate break-in in 1972 is widely regarded as the biggest political scandal in recent US history, with Republican President Richard Nixon resigning in 1974 when his role in the crime was exposed.
The party was able to bounce back fairly quickly from the Nixon scandals, with Gerald Ford taking over as president for the remainder of Nixon’s term and the party winning back power in 1980 after Democrat Jimmy Carter’s one-term presidency.
Writing in New York magazine, political analyst Ed Kilgore identified several key differences that would make it more difficult for the GOP to bounce back from Trump’s scandals than from Nixon’s, including his enduring popularity and a lack of alternative leaders.