Just one day after Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th US president, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a newly elected Republican congresswoman from Georgia, filed articles of impeachment against him.
It was the kind of publicity stunt that Ms Greene, a supporter of far-right conspiracy QAnon, has become known for since she entered the political fray. Her ability to command the spotlight has made her a lodestar for loyalists to Donald Trump, who want to keep his aggressive brand of politics at the centre of the Republican party.
Ms Greene is one of a handful of new Republican lawmakers to have gained national attention thanks to media-savvy tactics. Others include Lauren Boebert, a Colorado gun rights activist who insisted she would bring a handgun to Capitol Hill despite local laws banning concealed weapons.
Like the former president, their real power lies in an ability to command the narrative, rather than notching up bona fide political victories. Even Ms Greene, who has taken to wearing a mask emblazoned with the word “censored”, seemed to acknowledge that her impeachment effort has little chance of success. “We’ll see how this goes,” she said in a video posted on Twitter.
Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and former spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, said: “The reality is these are people who design their careers to make headlines, these are not the workhorses that will change any federal policies. They don’t write and pass legislation: they make waves.”
Whether Ms Greene and others can sustain their prominence could prove of consequence as Mr Trump tries to keep his hold over the Republican party, especially now that he has been banned from social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook. Their brash tactics might also complicate Mr Biden’s efforts to usher in a more bipartisan era in Washington.
Reports last week that Mr Trump was considering starting a new “Patriot party” sent shockwaves through the Republican establishment, stoking fears that he might split the party’s votes and spell ruin for their prospects in the 2022 midterms.
Still, recent developments in local Republican party politics suggest that Mr Trump might not need a new political vehicle. Since the election, rightwing activists in several states have tried to tighten their grip on the party apparatus and demonstrate fealty to the former president.
In Arizona, for example, the Republican state party voted this week to censure former Republican senator Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, John McCain’s widow, for backing Mr Biden in November’s election.
They also censured Doug Ducey, the state’s Republican governor and one-time ally of the former president, for imposing Covid-19 restrictions. Mr Trump turned on Mr Ducey after November, claiming the governor had “betrayed” the people of Arizona by failing to overturn the results of the presidential election there.
In Oregon, the state Republican party released a resolution claiming the January 6 siege on Capitol Hill was “false flag” operation intended to “discredit President Trump, his supporters, and all conservative Republicans”.
“It is completely detached from reality, and self-destructive if your purpose is to build a bigger party and attract more voters,” said Mr Heye of the moves by local party officials.
He added: “This is part of how the party has devolved into tribal politics. They are more interested in driving out who they see as heretics, than winning converts. That is not a strategy for winning.”
Meanwhile, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mr Trump’s former press secretary, launched her bid for governor of Arkansas on Tuesday with a nearly eight-minute video that leaned heavily on her experience in the Trump White House.
Shortly after, Mr Trump endorsed her candidacy in a statement: “Sarah Huckabee Sanders is a warrior who will always fight for the people of Arkansas and do what is right, not what is politically correct . . . Sarah will be a GREAT Governor, and she has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
There are clear electoral advantages to being in Mr Trump’s good graces, particularly in a ruby-red state such as Arkansas, which the former president won by a nearly 28-point margin in November. But significant risks exist, too, particularly in swing states where statewide races for the US Senate and the governor’s mansion are likely to be tight in 2022.
More than 9,000 voters in Arizona requested to change their party registration from Republican since the January 6 siege on Capitol Hill, according to the state’s secretary of state. Similar patterns were reported in other key swing states, including Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina — all places where Republicans will be looking to hold on to Senate seats in the 2022 midterms.
Rob Portman, a moderate Republican senator from Ohio, on Tuesday said he would not seek re-election next year, teeing up another hotly contested Senate race that could prove a litmus test of support for Mr Trump’s brand of Republicanism. Among the lawmakers said to be eyeing the seat is Jim Jordan, a GOP congressman and unflinching ally of Mr Trump.
Recent national opinion polls suggest the Republican base remains loyal to the president and his unfounded claims that the November elections were “rigged”.
A Monmouth University poll published Monday showed that nearly three-quarters of Republicans believe Mr Biden won the presidency because of voter fraud. Among that group, two-thirds told pollsters it was time to move on, but one-third, or about 10 per cent of all American adults, said they would never accept Mr Biden as president.
“A number of ostensible leaders in the Republican party continue to peddle this false narrative and many more who know this claim is wrong have not been particularly outspoken in disavowing it,” said Patrick Murray, the poll’s director. “Their fellow partisans in the American public are simply following that lead.”