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10 GOP House Members Break With Party, Vote To Impeach Trump

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump is once again making history with less than a week left in his term. Last night, he became the first American president to be impeached twice. This time, the charge is inciting an insurrection.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: On this vote, the yeas are 232. The nays are 197. The resolution is adopted without objection. The motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.

MARTIN: Most House Republicans backed the president, but 10 GOP members broke with their party, supporting Democrats and casting their votes for impeachment. The Senate won't hold a trial until after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in next week. Mike Murphy is with us this morning. He's a Republican strategist and an adviser to a coalition called Republican Voters Against Trump. Mike, thanks for being here.

MIKE MURPHY: Good morning.

MARTIN: So after President Trump tried to overturn a democratic election and encouraged a rally that then turned into a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, only 10 House Republicans voted to impeach. What does that say about the GOP in this moment?

MURPHY: Well, there's still fear of primary voters in the Republican Party. I think if the - if it had been a secret ballot, not a roll call, the number would have been significantly higher, but it's still notable of the 10 people out of the caucus in our polarized time would do it. But the real deal of impeachment is always the Senate. You know, the House kind of tees it up. It's sort of astounding Trump is now - of all impeachments in American history, he's personally responsible for 50% of them.

And the fact that Senator McConnell has not shut this down, in fact, has kind of opened the door for consideration, is a huge threat, I think, to the president on this impeachment compared to the last one. And we'll see what happens in that Senate trial. There's a tremendous anger within the Senate over Trump's action. And politically, there's kind of a pragmatic view that the Trump thing has to be ended or the party is doomed.

MARTIN: Right. So I want to ask you where - kind of a big-picture question on Mitch McConnell. I mean, he says he's open to it. He's considering supporting impeachment himself, opening the door to potentially other Republicans in the Senate to follow suit. What does that mean for him personally? I mean, he has been one of the president's most loyal allies and now he finds himself in this position.

MURPHY: Well, I think Mitch McConnell is a very savvy power politician who, ultimately, is interested in doing what is in the interest of the Senate caucus. And I think he was like many of these politicians - the real world broke through when the rabble inspired by Trump tried an insurrection. That's a clarifying moment. So I think there's legitimate and proper and praiseworthy - and you would expect it - outrage for real, obviously, in both parties. So there's part of that. And there's part of the political calculation. Before the attack on the Capitol, the president's actions that had contributed to the Republicans losing control of the Senate. Ideologically, that is a big thing.

So I think, you know, Trump's situation privately and the leadership of most, not all - there's a faction that's with him till the end - is kind of like the old Hollywood joke about the actor who was so hated that when the story got out that 10,000 people attended his funeral, somebody said, that's amazing, and somebody else said, no, they just want to make sure he's dead. So the idea that Trump can be purged politically from the party and punished for this, because you can't set the precedent that this behavior is OK in the future, has been enough to put Senator McConnell in a very hostile position versus the president. That is a dire political threat to Donald Trump.

MARTIN: Well, I hear you saying that you believe President Trump is going to be diminished by that. I mean, and common sense would lead you to believe this, being impeached two times in one term. But, I mean, what's your evidence to that, Mike? Because there are still a whole lot of people who would consider themselves not fringe Republicans, who think that Donald Trump was right, that the election was rigged. And if he goes down in flames in this moment, does that further embolden him as some kind of norm-breaking martyr?

MURPHY: Well, no. Among his core supporters, I think that's true. I think people often confuse the Republican Party loyalists or people who ideologically just can't accept the idea of Democrat ideological control as ardent Trump supporters. They are a fraction of the overall Republican vote. And I believe in, you know - again, in politics, we often watch the rearview mirror. That's how we didn't see Trump coming. And we may not be seeing Trump leaving.

We need to litigate this within the party. And the party leadership needs to go. And I think you're seeing that motion particularly in the Senate from reinforcing Trump to opposing him. They really have no other choice. And the real battleground will be the 2022 midterm elections where the Republican Party has to, from a weak position, decide what it's going to be. So I think this is all in flux. And we're going to find out.

MARTIN: Well, then let me ask you about the party's future. If you see Donald Trump loosening his grip on the party, that the GOP can come out of this in one piece somehow, where does that leadership come from? Because we saw Liz Cheney just voted for impeachment, and she's getting hammered.

MURPHY: Well, look. Right now, it is - has been the church of Trump. My point is that it's in decline. And we're going to relitigate this. And the president will be in much weaker position. And there are more than - there's no shortage of people from every ideological wing of the party who would like to run for president in four years. And the one thing they all have in common is Trump is in their way.

MARTIN: But it's not just about him, is it? I mean, removing Trump is one thing. But it's his ideas and, I mean, if you use the Liz Cheney example again, she is a House Republican who is standing up to Trump-ism. Trump-ism is still around.

MURPHY: Oh, it is. And that is a good point. That could be harder to exorcise than Trump himself as a political personality. But, you know, they're linked. Part of Trump's charisma is his Trump weirdness. And Trump-ism without Trump may be easier to defeat over time. The other thing to watch is there is a huge reaction inside big business and medium-sized business now about cutting off funding to the party. That is a language they understand. It's about the competitiveness of future elections to win back a majority in the House or Senate. And if Trump has become a liability where he can't even raise campaign money, it just doubles down on all the problems with him. And the party's pragmatic, want to distance themselves.

MARTIN: Republican strategist Mike Murphy, he's the co-host of the podcast "Hacks On Tap." Mike, we appreciate it.

MURPHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.