In fight over GOP, state parties stand as firewall for Trump

Former Scott County Republican Party chairman Dave Millage at his home, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Bettendorf, Iowa. Within a day of declaring that former president Donald Trump should be impeached for his role in the deadly Capitol riot, Millage was forced to step down as chairman of the Scott County GOP. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Donald Trump has mused about forming a third party. But it's unclear why he needs one.

As he faces an impeachment trial for inciting insurrection, state and county Republican Party committees have rushed to Trump's defense — highlighting the former president's firm control of the GOP machinery.

In swing states and GOP bastions, state and local Republican committees are stocked with Trump supporters who remain loyal. Trump critics have been pushed out or marginalized. Party committees from Washington state to South Carolina have moved to punish many of the 10 House Republicans who supported Trump's impeachment for egging on the deadly Jan. 6 raid of the U.S. Capitol.

Trump's lock on the party apparatus is the result of a yearslong takeover of an institution he only loosely affiliated with before taking office. The effect amounts to a firewall protecting him and his far-right, nationalist politics from Republicans who argue the party needs a new direction if it wants to win elections.

“It’s come to the point where you have to be with him 100 percent of the time, or you’re the enemy,” said Dave Millage, a former Iowa lawmaker who was pushed out as Scott County GOP chairman after calling for Trump's impeachment.

On Saturday, the South Carolina GOP will decide whether to censure Republican Rep. Tom Rice for his vote to impeach the former president. It's a move meant to scar the five-term congressman for what many of his constituents considered a betrayal, said GOP chairwoman Dreama Perdue in Rice's home Horry County.

In some cases, the state parties' defense of Trump has exposed the extent to which disinformation, conspiracy theories and views once considered fringe have been normalized in the GOP.

In Oregon, the state party last week released a resolution passed by its executive committee that in part falsely alleged the Capitol attack was a “false flag” designed to embarrass Trump supporters. State parties in Hawaii and Texas have recently tweeted references to the QAnon conspiracy theory, which claims Trump is waging a secret battle against the “deep state” and a sect of powerful devil-worshipping pedophiles including top Democrats.