‘A Tremendous Complication’: G.O.P. Dances Around Trump’s Lingering Presence

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“This is all about the Trump circle of grift,” said former Representative Barbara Comstock of Virginia, who is close to another high-profile Republican — and a frequent target of Mr. Trump’s — who was also notably absent: Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

Ms. Comstock said that the Republicans keeping their distance were wise to “build their own coalitions” and “not get sucked into Trumpism, which has a limited and short-term appeal with demographics dying in this country.”

Henry Barbour, an influential R.N.C. member from Mississippi, said that the party was still in a transitional phase since Mr. Trump’s loss.

“When you lose the White House, you kind of figure it’s going to take a little bit of healing, and I think probably first quarter has hopefully got us moving on a better path,” Mr. Barbour said. Mr. Trump, he said, is a “big force in the party, but the party is bigger than any one candidate including Donald Trump.”

With Mr. Trump’s priorities differing from those of other party leaders, the tension remains palpable. On Friday, the super PAC for Senate Republicans, which is aligned with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, announced its backing of Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, who infuriated Mr. Trump by voting to impeach him. (Some Trump 2020 advisers are working for Ms. Murkowski’s Republican challenger, Kelly Tshibaka.)

Last month, Mr. McConnell privately boasted of the super PAC’s fund-raising in a meeting with Senate Republicans, bragging that it had raised more than Mr. Trump’s super PAC had in 2020. He even distributed a card to hammer home the point: “In three cycles: nearly $1 billion,” the card said. Below that were Mr. Trump’s super PAC statistics: “Trump: $148+ million,” referring to the group America First.

But the Republican small donor base remains very much enamored with Mr. Trump.

“He’ll still be the most significant figure in the party in November 2022,” predicted Al Cardenas, a former chairman of the Florida Republican Party and former chairman of the American Conservative Union. “Everybody has a shelf life and Donald Trump has lost a bit of his shelf life.”

“It could be two years,” Mr. Cardenas added. “It could be 10.”

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