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Republican Acquittal of Trump Is a Defining Moment for Party

But by declining to convict Mr. Trump on Saturday, Mr. McConnell invited questions about whether he will be any more willing to fight Mr. Trump openly on the campaign trail than he was on the Senate floor.

Only a few senior Republicans have gone so far as to say that it is time for Mr. Trump to lose his lordly status in the party altogether. Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the highest-ranking House Republican to support impeachment, said in a recent television interview that Mr. Trump “does not have a role as a leader of our party going forward.”

Ms. Cheney may be emerging as the de facto leader of anti-Trump forces in the House, and she is certain to face a fierce challenge from the right in her home district next year. While she beat back an effort from Trump loyalists to remove her from her leadership position, five dozen of her Republican colleagues voted to depose her even after a plea from Mr. McCarthy to keep her in her post.

Among those hard-line members, it may have been Ms. Greene, the extremist Georgia freshman, who best summed up Mr. Trump’s place in the G.O.P.: “The party is his,” she said in a news conference earlier this month.

In Washington, a quiet majority of Republican officials appears to be embracing the kind of wishful thinking that guided them throughout Mr. Trump’s first campaign in 2016, and then through much of his presidency, insisting that he would soon be marginalized by his own outrageous conduct or that he would lack the discipline to make himself a durable political leader.

That reasoning has seldom paid off for Mr. Trump’s adversaries, who learned repeatedly that the only sure way to rein him in was to beat him and his legislative proxies at the ballot box. That task has fallen almost entirely to Democrats, who captured the House in 2018 to put a check on Mr. Trump and then ejected him from the White House in November.

Still, Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, a longtime Trump ally who has been critical of the former president since the November election, told reporters in the Capitol on Friday that he believed Mr. Trump would be weakened by the impeachment trial, even if the Senate opted not to convict him. (Mr. Cramer, previously described the trial as “the stupidest week in the Senate,” voted for acquittal)

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