Even some inner city Republicans – like Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey – embrace Trump’s potential return to the political fray.
“Yes I would,” said Van Drew, who switched parties and became a Republican in 2019 to defend Trump in his first impeachment proceeding, when asked if he would support the ex-president if he presented himself again in 2024.
The congressman from southern New Jersey, whose district narrowly backed Trump last year, has bluntly said he doesn’t think Trump is responsible for the events of January 6, saying the former president didn’t had not called for violence.
“I don’t,” Van Drew said. “I think people are responsible for their own actions.”
When asked if he thinks President Joe Biden legitimately won, Van Drew replied, “I’m not going to make that decision. But what I’m thinking is that we need to make sure our system election is functioning properly. ”
But as time runs out since Jan.6 and Trump returns to campaign rallies, much of the House GOP conference is publicly rallying around the defeated former president while downplaying the deadly riot on Capitol Hill – a huge boon for Trump as he weighs his political future. If the GOP had any lingering doubts that Trump was the face of their party, they have completely evaporated from public view.
“If he ran, I think he would be the candidate,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, a member of the conservative Republican study committee. “He had nothing to do with January 6. I think that’s a crazy idea. I don’t think he got hurt in the party.”
Rep. Jason Smith, a Republican from Missouri weighing a Senate bid, added: “We won the midterm election in 2022 but to see where our country is at right now I miss him. absolutely and I would support him. ”
The attraction of taking over the house
There’s a reason Republicans are embracing Trump’s lie that the election was stolen, shrugging their shoulders at his inflammatory rhetoric, or whitewashing his role in fomenting the January 6 riot: Many believe his help will be essential to retake the House in 2022 and are keen to mark his approval – or, in some cases, are afraid to upset him.
This dynamic was fully visible last weekend at a rally in Iowa, where Trump addressed voters in a key state that is home to the country’s first presidential caucus.
When asked last week if he thought Trump bore any responsibility for January 6, Grassley noted that the committee’s investigation had not delved into the events of that day, suggesting he would wait. to draw a conclusion about it if there was another investigation – led by Senate Judicial Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat.
“We’ll just have to wait and see if he does more investigation,” Grassley said.
In another sign that Trump is increasingly back in the party fold, the former president will be the star of upcoming GOP campaign weapons fundraisers in the House and Senate – even if he continues to do so. attack Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican official. Trump was not invited to attend a House GOP retreat earlier this year, while Cheney was still a member of the leadership, but she has since been replaced by a more loyal Trump supporter in New York, Elise Stefanik.
GOP leaders in the House have made it clear that they see Trump as a central part of their quest to regain their majority, saying he can help increase their campaign coffers as well as voter turnout.
Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise, who would be vying for the House Majority Leader if the GOP returned to power next year, told CNN on Tuesday that the former president “draws large crowds” when he was asked if he would support Trump in 2024.
“He wants to help us win the House back in 2022,” Scalise said, before listing the problems Biden is facing – from high gas prices to illegal immigration. “The enthusiasm has never been greater for us to win the House back. And President Trump is really going to help us get there.”
Most Republicans in Congress have no qualms about another Trump presidential bid. Representative Lee Zeldin from New York called the former president “a clear favorite for the party nomination.” Representative Roger Williams of Texas said Trump was still widely regarded as “our party’s spokesperson.” And Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, the head of the conservative Republican study committee, believes Trump “would also have a good chance of winning the general election.”
“If President Trump runs in 2024 he has my full support,” Banks said. “The ‘Make America Great Again’ message makes more sense today than it did in 2015 when Donald Trump came down the escalator, because people feel it, they see America’s decline under Democrat watch. “
Tolerate Trump’s Lies
But even as Trump has continued his parade of lies and conspiracies about the election results, GOP lawmakers continue to look the other way – or accept his claims.
Rep. Joe Wilson from South Carolina called Jan. 6 an “aberration that shouldn’t have happened,” but made it clear that he didn’t think Trump was responsible at all. And he said “there were irregularities that needed to be investigated” when asked if he agreed with Trump continually saying the election was stolen.
“Yes,” Wilson said when asked if he thought Trump should run again.
Scalise, repeatedly pressed by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, declined to say on Sunday whether he agreed with Trump that the election was stolen.
Former Vice President Mike Pence – who was the subject of chants ‘Hang Mike Pence’ that day for refusing to overturn election results – recently criticized the media for focusing so much on the insurgency , calling it “a January day”. “
And some Republicans – like Rep. Chip Roy from Texas and McConnell, who criticized Trump immediately after Jan.6 – are reluctant to target him now. Roy, who had spoken out against efforts to overturn the congressional election, dodged questions on Tuesday when asked about Trump’s persistent claim that the election was stolen.
“I think the former president rightly points out that this administration is a complete disaster – a train wreck. But for now, we should focus only on what we need to do now to stop the damage they are inflicting. in the country every day. It’s my job, ”said Roy.
CNN’s Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.