It was a well-recognized scene on Sunday when Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, tried to keep away from giving a direct reply concerning the caustic habits of former President Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Trump had referred to as Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority chief, “dumb” and used a rough phrase to underscore it whereas talking to a whole lot of Republican Nationwide Committee donors on Saturday night time. When Mr. Thune was requested by Chris Wallace, the host of “Fox Information Sunday,” to remark, he chuckled and tried to sidestep the query.
“I believe a whole lot of that rhetoric is — you recognize, it’s a part of the type and tone that comes with the previous president,” Mr. Thune mentioned, earlier than shifting on to say Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell shared the aim of reclaiming congressional majorities in 2022.
Mr. Thune was not the one Republican straining to keep away from confrontation with Mr. Trump, regardless of how outlandish the previous president’s public feedback. The identical day that Mr. Trump was delivering broadsides in opposition to Mr. McConnell, former Vice President Mike Pence and a bunch of different perceived enemies from each events, Senator Rick Scott of Florida, the chairman of the Nationwide Republican Senatorial Committee, introduced Mr. Trump with a newly created award for his management.
And Nikki Haley, the previous ambassador to the United Nations beneath Mr. Trump who enraged him when she criticized his actions in connection to the Jan. 6 riot, and indicated the celebration wants to maneuver on, has additionally been making an attempt a fragile dance to work again right into a extra impartial territory.
This week, she advised The Related Press that she wouldn’t run if Mr. Trump did, a show of deference that underscored the issues the previous president represents to Republicans.
Like many Republicans, Mr. Thune, Mr. Scott and Ms. Haley had been navigating the impulses of a former president who talks privately about working once more in 2024, and who’s making an attempt to bend the remainder of the celebration to his will, even after the lethal riot by his supporters on the Capitol on Jan. 6. He retains a agency maintain on a loyal group of Republican voters, and celebration leaders have mentioned the necessity to proceed interesting to the brand new voters Mr. Trump attracted over the previous 5 years.
To some extent, their posture remembers the waning days of Mr. Trump’s first major candidacy, in 2015 and 2016. Whereas Mr. McConnell and some different Republicans have been immediately vital of Mr. Trump’s conduct following the Capitol riot, most try to keep away from alienating the previous president, realizing he’ll set his sights on them for withering assaults, and hoping that somebody or one thing else intervenes to hobble him.
Whilst Mr. Trump makes clear he won’t depart the general public stage, many Republicans have privately mentioned they hope he’ll fade away, after a tenure through which the celebration misplaced each homes of Congress and the White Home.
“It’s Groundhog Day,” mentioned Tim Miller, a former adviser to Jeb Bush, the one candidate to repeatedly problem Mr. Trump through the early phases of the Republican presidential primaries in 2016.
“I at all times thought that was like a rational alternative in 2015,” Mr. Miller mentioned, referring to the intuition to put again and let another person tackle Mr. Trump. “However after all of us noticed how the technique fails of simply hoping and wishing for him to go away, no person discovered from it.”
All through that marketing campaign, one candidate after one other within the crowded subject tried to place themselves to be the final man standing on the belief that Mr. Trump would self-destruct earlier than making it to the end line.
It was wishful considering. Mr. Trump attacked not solely Mr. Bush however a number of different candidates in deeply private phrases, together with Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and the businesswoman Carly Fiorina. Solely Mr. Bush sustained a response, although he ultimately left the race after failing to realize traction; Mr. Cruz, specifically, advised donors throughout a non-public assembly in late 2015 that he was going to present Mr. Trump a “huge bear hug” with a purpose to maintain onto his voters.
All of them tried to keep away from being the goal of his insults, whereas hoping that exterior occasions and information media protection would finally result in his downfall. As a substitute, Mr. Trump solidified his place as major voting started.
“He intimidates individuals as a result of he’ll assault viciously and relentlessly, way more than every other politician, but one way or the other individuals crave his approval,” mentioned Mike DuHaime, who suggested former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey in that major race. Mr. DuHaime recalled Mr. Trump attacking Mr. Bush’s spouse in a single debate, just for Mr. Bush to reciprocate when Mr. Trump supplied a hand-slap later in that very same debate.
“Trump did self-destruct ultimately, after 4 years in workplace,” Mr. DuHaime mentioned. “However he can nonetheless make or break others, and that makes him highly effective and related.”
Even John Boehner, the previous speaker of the Home whose criticisms of Mr. Trump in his memoir, “On the Home,” have garnered nationwide headlines, advised Time journal this week that he voted for Mr. Trump in 2020 — effectively after the previous president had spent months falsely suggesting the election can be corrupt.
In his speech earlier than Republican Nationwide Committee donors on Saturday night time, Mr. Trump, along with attacking Mr. McConnell, additionally criticized Mr. Pence, whose life was at risk on Jan. 6 as a result of he was within the Capitol to certify the electoral votes. Mr. Trump reiterated that Mr. Pence, who not too long ago signed a guide deal, ought to have had “the braveness” to ship the electoral vote tallies again to the states, although the vice chairman had made clear that he didn’t suppose he had the authority to take action.
Jason Miller, an adviser to Mr. Trump, disagreed with the comparability to 2015, saying that Mr. Trump had extra dominance over the bottom of the Republican Get together now than he did then, in keeping with public polling, and a higher variety of senior Republican officers talking out in opposition to him.
“In 2021, there are not any candidates making an attempt to take out President Trump, just a few occasional sniping from menthol-infused nitwits like John Boehner,” he mentioned.
Nonetheless, Mr. Trump doesn’t have the whole management over the celebration that he did throughout 4 years in workplace.
And never all Republicans suppose that ignoring Mr. Trump is a mistake. One senior celebration member, talking on the situation of anonymity as a result of he didn’t wish to interact in a prolonged forwards and backwards with Mr. Trump, mentioned that with the previous president out of workplace and off Twitter, his attain is proscribed.
The Republican mentioned there had been anecdotal proof from members of Congress through the recess that Mr. Trump was much less omnipresent for voters of their districts than he had beforehand been.
Whereas Mr. Trump was ascendant in 2015 and 2016, mentioned an adviser to a different Republican who might run in 2024, that wasn’t the case now. And if celebration leaders battle with him publicly or attempt to take him on, it may solely strengthen him, the Republican argued, giving him extra prominence.
What’s extra, the primary senior Republican argued, Republican lawmakers have discovered widespread trigger not simply in battling President Biden’s insurance policies however within the backlash to the Georgia voting rights regulation. These fights have continued with out Mr. Trump, and can speed up, the Republican mentioned, with out being pushed by the cult of persona across the former president.
Different Republicans are privately hopeful that the felony investigation into Mr. Trump’s enterprise by the New York district legal professional, Cyrus Vance Jr., will lead to expenses that hobble him from working once more and even being a significant determine throughout the celebration. Individuals who have spoken with Mr. Trump say that he’s agitated concerning the investigation.
Whereas all of which will characterize only a sluggish flip away from Mr. Trump, these Republicans imagine the flip has begun.
David Kochel, a Republican strategist and supporter of Mr. Bush through the 2016 marketing campaign, sounded much less optimistic.
He famous that even the horror of Jan. 6 didn’t break the maintain Mr. Trump has on different elected officers, and that a number of anchors on Fox Information — the biggest conservative information outlet — had persistently downplayed the assault on air, numbing viewers to what occurred as time passes.
In an interview on Fox Information with the host Laura Ingraham late final month, when requested concerning the safety across the Capitol, Mr. Trump mentioned: “It was zero risk proper from the beginning. It was zero risk.”
He added: “A few of them went in and there they’re hugging and kissing the police and the guards. , they’d nice relationships. Numerous the individuals had been waved in after which they walked in and so they walked out.”
Mr. Kochel mentioned Jan. 6 was “being stuffed down the reminiscence gap” with the assistance of Fox Information, noting that the technique of ready out Mr. Trump and hoping he fades away has had a less-than-perfect historical past of being efficient.
“We’ve seen this film earlier than — a bunch of G.O.P. leaders all taking a look at one another, ready to see who’s going to try to down Trump,” he mentioned.