The acrimonious split within Republican ranks widened over the weekend as Donald Trump made his foray back into politics, backing the re-election of a hard-line supporter as chair of the party in Arizona.
His wholehearted support for Kelli Ward was seen by allies as the former president firing a warning shot across the bows of any Republican senators considering backing his impeachment.
Underlining Mr Trump’s grip on the Republican grassroots, the Arizona party also voted to censure John McCain’s widow, Cindy, former senator Jeff Flake and governor Doug Ducey, who refused to back the former president’s claims of election fraud.
Mr Trump’s intervention came amid reports that he is considering setting up a “Patriot Party” which would spearhead primary challenges to his opponents in the 2022 mid-term elections.
The former president has already amassed a massive war chest with his Save America political action committee declaring last month that it had raked in $207.5 million in donations.
Sam Nunberg, a former political adviser to Donald Trump, believes the “Patriot Party” would – like the Tea Party – work to get supporters nominated as Republican candidates.
“These are the people he will support in the primaries,” he told the Telegraph.
“The Arizona vote made it a fait accompli that he will not be convicted in this sham impeachment trial.
“It’s an indicator that he still controls the primaries. This shows if you are a Republican and you vote convict Donald Trump and have a primary, you might as well retire.
“It’s a show of strength. Especially with Mitch McConnell coming out and criticising President Trump, and he is one of the most powerful people in the party.”
Jeff Lord, who worked in the Reagan White House, said the vote in Arizona demonstrated the grip that Mr Trump now had on the Republican party.
“This is fairly typical, this is Trump versus the establishment, this is going to be a battle royal. He did get 75 million votes and these people will stick with him.
“I think it would backfire badly on senators who voted for impeachment. It would show the establishment is a bunch of elitists who don’t care what the people who put them there have to say.
“For those Republicans who want to be re-elected to the senate and have a career, this could be problematic.”
There has been mounting anger among Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters at “establishment” Republicans who broke with Mr Trump.
However, Mrs McCain dismissed the vote of censure, describing it as a “badge of honour.”
The impeachment vote will be the first indication of the extent of the division within Republican ranks.
Only one Republican, Mitt Romney, broke ranks with the party in the first impeachment trial by supporting Mr Trump’s removal from office.
More are expected to do so this time, although the view in Washington is that it is unlikely that the number of defectors will reach the 17 needed for impeachment to be passed.
According to the New York Times Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, has told associates that he believes Mr Trump committed impeachable offences.
Reports that Mr Trump was ready to install an acting attorney general who would back his claims of a fraudulent election will strengthen the hand of those supporting impeachment.
“There’s no question that the article of impeachment that was sent over by the House describes impeachable conduct, but we have not yet heard either from the prosecution or the defence,” Mr Romney told Fox News Sunday.
Florida senator and former presidential candidate Marco Rubio told Fox News that he opposed impeachment.
We already have a flaming fire in this country,” he said, adding that the trial would be “a bunch of gasoline”.
Christopher Galdieri, an associate professor of politics at Saint Anselm College, doubted that Mr Trump would be able to start a new party.
“Sarting a new party is prohibitively difficult and expensive; Ross Perot, who was richer in the early 1990s than Trump has ever been, couldn’t do it then,” he said.
“So threatening a new party might be more effective and have more impact than actually starting one.”
Mr Trump has moved to his golf resort at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, where reportedly members are leaving because it has become a “sad place” since the former president took up residence.