An Early Trump Backer’s Message to the Republican Party: Dump Him

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The greatest threat to Donald Trump’s grip on the Republican Party has always come from the ranks of his own supporters, rather than those who disliked him all along. So it’s significant that one of his earliest backers is coming out swinging against him.

In February 2016, when Representative Tom Marino became one of the first Republican members of Congress to endorse Trump, he called the decision “one of my life-changing moments” and hailed the presidential candidate as a fresh voice who was not beholden to Wall Street.

At the time, Trump was still locked in a tight nomination battle with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and he was struggling to attract support from elected officials. Marino, a former prosecutor who represented a rural district in northern Pennsylvania, didn’t just endorse him. He was a loud and proud Trump booster who helped steer his campaign in the state and joined his presidential transition team after he won.

Trump expressed fondness for Marino and Lou Barletta, a fellow member of Congress and co-chairman of Trump’s campaign in Pennsylvania, calling them “thunder and lightning.”

As president, Trump tapped Marino to be director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, though Marino withdrew after questions about his record on opioids. He resigned from Congress in 2019 soon after beginning his fifth term, citing recurring kidney problems.

During this year’s Republican primary for governor in Pennsylvania, Marino sharply criticized Trump for refusing to endorse Barletta, who lost that race to Doug Mastriano. Now, he is urging his fellow Republicans to move on.

“I think the Republican Party has to do whatever it has to do to get away from Trump,” Marino said in an interview. “He certainly, I think, has cost the party losses in this election that we had in November. I’m deeply disappointed in him.”

In an unpublished letter that he shared with The New York Times, Marino castigated Trump for “acting like a childish bully” by attacking Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, whom the former president ripped as “Ron DeSanctimonious” as Republicans began to coalesce around a possible alternative for 2024.

To secure his support, Marino wrote, Trump would have had to “grow up and act presidential and refrain from calling potential candidates derogatory names.”

Trump, he added, “has thrown several people that were close to him under the bus”; “has no idea what loyalty means”; and “severely lacks character and integrity.”

“I will not support Trump, in fact, I will campaign against him,” Marino’s letter concluded. “Our country deserves a person who is mature, respects others and is honest to lead our nation.”

Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The evidence that Trump is getting weaker within the Republican Party is mounting by the day, and Marino’s letter is just the latest indicator.

“G.O.P. primary voters are moving,” said Mike DuHaime, a Republican strategist, nodding to Trump’s worsening poll numbers in hypothetical 2024 matchups. “They are exhausted having to defend his every word and action,” he added, and want “similar policies and fight without all the drama.”

Consider the party’s less-than-full-throated reaction to Monday’s big news: the Jan. 6 committee’s call to the Justice Department to prosecute Trump. The panel also issued a damning, 154-page executive summary of its final report, which comes out in full on Wednesday.

“That evidence has led to an overriding and straightforward conclusion: The central cause of Jan. 6 was one man, former President Donald Trump, who many others followed,” the summary reads. “None of the events of Jan. 6 would have happened without him.”

Trump responded with typical bluster. “These folks don’t get it that when they come after me,” he posted on Truth Social, “people who love freedom rally around me.”

He went on: “It strengthens me. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”

There are no signs of that so far. As Maggie Haberman writes in assessing the damage wrought both by the former president’s recent actions and by the committee’s investigation, “Trump is significantly diminished, a shrunken presence on the political landscape.”

Two possible presidential contenders — former Vice President Mike Pence and Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas — took the position that Trump had acted recklessly on Jan. 6, though they argued that he should not be criminally prosecuted.

In the Senate, Trump also didn’t get much political cover on Monday. Only one Republican senator, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, has endorsed his presidential bid.

“The entire nation knows who is responsible for that day,” Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, told reporters at the Capitol. “Beyond that, I don’t have any immediate observations.”

Senator John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, said the panel had “interviewed some credible witnesses.” Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, while criticizing what she called a “political process,” said that Trump “bears some responsibility” for the riot.

And even in the House — which is still very much Trump country — the reaction was well short of thorough, orchestrated pushback.

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the top Republican in the House, perhaps mindful that he needs moderate Republicans to support his bid for speaker just as badly as he needs pro-Trump die-hards, said nothing.

McCarthy’s lieutenants dutifully attacked the Jan. 6 panel, but there was no phalanx of pro-Trump surrogates holding court for reporters at the Capitol, no point-by-point rebuttal of the committee’s key findings.

Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, who is in charge of Republicans’ message, put out a single tweet calling the Jan. 6 investigation a “partisan charade.” Representative Jim Jordan, the incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee, complained that McCarthy hadn’t been allowed to put his allies on the panel, which he boycotted after Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected his first two choices. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia went after “communist” Democrats and attacked Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of just two Republicans on the committee, as “crybaby Adam.”

More often, Republicans preferred to change the subject to anything else — the year-end spending bill that many on the right oppose, the recent surge of migrants along the border, Twitter’s handling of articles about Hunter Biden’s laptop in 2020 or the effects of inflation.

Democrats tend to view Republicans’ attitude toward Trump as cynical rather than principled in nature, remembering how a good chunk of the party rallied to his side in early 2021 — then eagerly sought his endorsement in 2022.

“If the G.O.P. had won the House by a large margin and taken the Senate on the backs of Trump’s candidates, the reaction to these recent troubles would be very, very different,” Dan Pfeiffer, a former communications director for President Barack Obama, wrote Tuesday in his Substack newsletter.

What this misses, though, is that the Jan. 6 committee — especially its slickly produced prime-time hearings over the summer, which riveted millions of viewers — does seem to have been at least a minor factor in Republicans’ losses this year.

One of the few polls to try to isolate the question came out this week. In surveys commissioned by Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan watchdog group, 46 percent of voters in five battleground states said that the Jan. 6 hearings were a factor in their decision. And a larger group — 57 percent — said they had been at least some exposure to the hearings.

The poll zeroed in on so-called ticket-splitters — Republicans and independents who voted for a Democrat in one race and a Republican in another. In Arizona, 20.9 percent of those ticket-splitters said that Jan. 6 was a top factor in their vote. In Pennsylvania, that number was just 8.5 percent. Those numbers are pretty modest, but every vote counts.

When I recently asked Sarah Longwell, a Republican consultant who worked to defeat election deniers in places like Arizona and Pennsylvania, to assess the role democracy played in the midterms, she was cautious.

“I do think we’ve just won an important battle and sent a message to Republicans that election denialism and extremism is a loser with swing/independent voters in states that hold the keys to political power,” she said in an email. But it was too soon, she said, to say that American democracy was “out of the woods.”

So far, the most potent argument within the base of the Republican Party has not been Trump’s behavior in office, but the increasingly dominant view that his obsession with the 2020 election cost the G.O.P. crucial seats this year.

That could be the most powerful anti-Trump argument of all, said John Sides, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University: that election denial is a political loser.

“All that matters is the interpretation,” Sides said. “If that perception takes root, then it really doesn’t matter what the real reason is.”

  • Top lawmakers in Washington unveiled a sprawling spending package that would keep the government open through next fall after reaching a compromise on billions of dollars in federal spending, Emily Cochrane reports. Congress faces a midnight Friday deadline to fund the government or face a shutdown.

  • The House Ways and Means Committee today is considering the release of Trump’s tax returns. Such a move would risk reprisals from Republicans, Alan Rappeport writes.

  • Congress has proposed $1 billion to help poor countries cope with climate change, a figure that falls significantly short of what President Biden promised, Lisa Friedman reports.

Thank you for reading On Politics, and for being a subscriber to The New York Times. — Blake

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