Parties divided: How Trump’s impeachment trials affected Republican cohesion


The Republican Party has continually moved farther right in the last few decades while remaining cohesive. Democrats have faced divides within the party between moderates and progressive liberals.  

Katherine Kealey

In the weeks leading up to the Senate trials for the conviction of former President Donald Trump, Republicans are stuck between a hard spot and their former party head. 

Support for Trump among Republicans since the insurrection has fluctuated, but the weeks leading up to the trials have been telling. House Republicans voted in favor of Rep. Liz Cheney remaining in House GOP leadership in a secret ballot vote. Cheney faced backlash for joining nine other Republicans to vote for the impeachment of Trump. 

“We really did have a terrific vote tonight, terrific time this evening laying out what we are going to do going forward as well as making clear that we are not going to be divided,” Cheney said. “We are not going to be in a situation where people can pick off any member of leadership.”

Kelly Shaw, an associate teaching professor of political science, said it is very extraordinary for a member of a party to speak out against a president.

“That is probably why you see the slap on the wrist from the Republican party,” Shaw said. “… I think the surprise here is not so much she was opposed to what transpired at the Capitol but yet she blames it squarely on the commander and chief, the figurehead of their party.” 

Ryan Hurley, a junior majoring in marketing and president of Iowa State College Republicans, said the vote was revealed to where the Republican party stands.

“What it showed me is there are 61 Republicans who should stay in office, the rest I would love to primary,” Hurley said. “I would love to put in more patriotic, very good candidates who will better serve their constituents.”

Cheney also emphasized the party needed to move forward together to help beat back Democratic policies. The vote came out 145 defending Cheney, including Iowa Congressional Rep. Ashley Hinson, who announced her vote in a tweet.

Hurley said many representatives and senators won their seats in November because of Trump’s campaign tactic, primarily his local rallies.

“People weren’t there for the district level representatives,” Hurley said. “To put it simply, they were there for Trump.”  

Cheney’s survival wasn’t the only telling vote of the week. Top House Republicans refused punishment for freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Greene has continually encouraged false election fraud rhetoric, making racist, anti-semtic videos and ridiculing the victims of the Parkland Florida school shooting.

While Republicans were opposed, House Democrats and 11 House Republicans voted in favor to remove Greene of all her committees, stripping her of responsibilities in a 230-199 vote. 

“I think given the polarization, the party has certainly moved to the right where Rep. Cheney sits,” Shaw said. “As a result, she is a little more of a target, if you will, in the conservative flank, whereas the representative from Georgia, not so much.”

Hurley views the accusations against Greene as liberal hypocrisy. Greene faces unfavorable opinion ratings ranging as low as 37 percent. But among the constituents of Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, Greene ran unopposed and won by a landslide of nearly 50 points

Sehba Faheem, a senior in biological system engineering and president emeritus of Iowa State College Democrats, said a far-right movement has emerged in the GOP and moderate Republicans are having to push against that opposition. 

Dirk Deam, a teaching professor of political science, said Greene’s case is the outcome of a right-wing media phenomenon.

“Republican representatives appear in some respect to be afraid of their voters,” Deam said. “… The right-wing media controlling the voters and the representatives have to follow them instead of lead them.”

But the Republican Party has remained ideologically unified for decades, while continually growing more conservative. The Democratic Party faces divide within the party between moderate and more progressive Democrats, and the 2020 Democratic caucuses are a prime example. 

President Joe Biden faced criticism for being too moderate in the past from opponents, some of whom currently serve in his Cabinet. This is not mirrored on the Republican side; Deam said relative moderates on the Republican side are often picked off.

“Moderates get driven out and they’re replaced by people who are more extreme or seemingly more extreme, but that effect is much more pronounced on the Republican side and the data show that,” Deam said.

Faheem said the Democratic side of the political spectrum covers an array of beliefs that are often mischaracterized. 

Even though Democrats control the federal government, Biden will still need to work with Republicans to pass key legislation. Faheem said Democrats may have to compromise on some big issues, but small change is still a net profit.

“Biden has been around Washington politics, he recognizes if he is going to get any significant legislation done in his four years,” Shaw said. “It is likely going to be in these two years and likely has to happen with bipartisan olive branches extending across the aisle.” 

Hurley said he believes both parties are moving to extremes and that bipartisan bills aren’t always a good thing.

Republicans representing the 117th Congress is rated at a .51 in comparison to Democrats at -.37 on a scale of -1 being very liberal and 1 being very conservative, according to Viewpoint. The data reports the Republican Party median ideology score increasing while the Democratic score has remained in the -.30 point range.

Deam said a common misconception is that the Democratic Party is also moving more liberal on the metric standard, when in fact, the data shows they are not.

“In this particular case, the data seem to suggest it’s a Republican Party that has been moving pretty precipitously and the Democratic Party has stayed relatively constant,” Deam said.

Political parties are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but the framers were aware of them. In George Washington’s farewell addresses, he warns of the divisiveness political parties and sectionalism can create. 

In the Federalist Papers No. 10, James Madison identified factions as inevitable as long as people have differing opinions, wealth and property. Deam said factionalism translates to today as special interest groups.

“[Factions] are rigidly uniform, and their thinking, they do not accept dissension in their own ranks,” Deam said. “They insist on public policies for their own purposes, and they oppose or try to defeat anybody who resists them. In other words, they’re not interested in compromise, they’re interested in getting their way.”

The landmark Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission resulted in the reverse of campaign finance restrictions. The decision granted money as free speech, which allowed organizations and corporations the right to contribute unlimited amounts of money to a campaign.

Shaw said the lack of reporting for campaign funding disenfranchises people and allows for money to have a greater impact while the republic suffers.

“Certainly, the more I look at it, the more I recognize the ramifications of the Citizens United case really changed the way politics is done here,” Shaw said. “It has increasingly allowed for an interest that has more extreme initiative to get accomplished has allowed them to engage in the political process anonymously and not be held to account.”