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September 18, 2021

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What effect will Donald Trump have on Republican Party going forward?

Donald Trump

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

There’s an unanswered question at the heart of the current political climate: Have Republicans won elections in the past four years because of President Donald Trump’s influence or in spite of him?

It’s a relevant question in Trump’s final days in office, as his once vise-like grip on the Republican Party seems to be weakening amid the backlash to the insurrection Jan. 6 by extremist Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol that he egged on.

It’s anyone’s guess what effect that will have on elections in Nevada and elsewhere for Republicans moving forward, as the president’s full impact on the party is hard to define and even harder to predict, said Dan Lee, an assistant professor of political science at UNLV.

“That’s in a nutshell, a big nutshell. There’s going to be disagreements in the party as far as which way to move forward,” Lee said. “Do (they) continue down this Trump path sort of populism, or are we going to kind of go back to the core economic values, just focusing on low taxes, small government rather than all these social issues?”

November’s general election favored Democratic candidates, with Joe Biden besting Trump and Democrats regaining the majority in the U.S. Senate, but by no means was it a blowout. Republicans flipped 14 seats in the House of Representatives, just not enough to win back the majority.

It is always difficult to interpret election results as a repudiation of a candidate, Lee said, because people vote for myriad reasons.

“All we know is more people voted for Democrats than Republicans, and there’s a lot of reasons why people do that,” he said. For example, some voters focus on one issue, like abortion.

In Nevada, Republicans picked up three seats in the state Assembly and one in the state Senate, though they remain in the minority in both chambers.

“Trump was always going to be kind of a wild card,” said Nevada Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus, R-Wellington. “People either love him or hate him.”

There has not been a large, public break from Trump among Nevada Republicans. The state party has been conspicuously silent in the aftermath of the insurrection, and former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, once the face of Trump’s baseless election fraud lawsuits in the state, is missing in action — no social media posts or call backs for interview requests.

Titus disavowed the rioters, stating that the “smooth transition of power is one of the hallmarks of what our republic is about” and that “violent protests are never acceptable.”

Others, including former Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler, R-Minden, criticized the rioters.

“Anyone causing violence in the Capitol should be immediately arrested and prosecuted,” Wheeler wrote in a Twitter post. “Same standard as those who caused violence in our cities before. Let our representatives do their work.”

In Washington, Nevada’s sole Republican congressman, Mark Amodei, voted against impeaching Trump for inciting the insurrection. Ten of 211 Republicans, however, broke ranks with the party and voted to impeach the president.

The impeachment process now goes to the Senate for a trial, where Republicans will be put on record as either standing with or against Trump, the party’s leader. Already several Republican senators have indicated they may vote to convict. But are the loss of the presidency, the loss of the Senate and a possible impeachment conviction enough to retake the party from Trump?

“If it’s only the small, vocal minority within the Republican Party, then it’d be easier for Republicans (to say) ‘OK, it’s time to move on,’ ” Lee said.