Gillespie, a professor at Emory University, said there's a sense of uncertainty in how the president fits in with the messaging, policy, and strategy of the Republican party moving forward.
“If President Trump is brought up on criminal charges and those charges are credible and they stick, would that diminish his luster or would he be portrayed as a martyr by his most ardent supporters, and would that be widespread?” Gillespie posed.
Trump, acquitted by the Senate in his second impeachment trial, could face more criminal and civil cases. The district attorney in Fulton County has opened an investigation into Trump's November phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which the former president pressured him to "find votes" to sway the election in his favor."
Trump also faces a probe into his finances in New York. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) condemned Trump and alluded to the former president possibly facing criminal charges in connection with the January 6 Capitol riot.
"While the political trial failed to convict President Trump, that doesn’t mean he’s completely outside of the bounds of accountability," Gillespie said. “What happened was serious. What happened was destabilizing, and if we let this go unaddressed, that’s going to leave our democracy potentially wounded mortally.”
Gillespie predicted the federal government would form a September 11-style commission that would peer into the causes and involvement in the Capitol attack.
As for the future of the Republican party, Gillespie said it could take a couple of election cycles to determine the true impact of Trump's impeachments, acquittals and personality on the GOP both in Georgia and nationwide.
While president, Trump helped push Gov. Brian Kemp past the 2018 primary. However, the former president's backing of Sen. Kelly Loeffler failed to produce a victory in 2020. Both Kemp and Raffensperger have drawn the ire of Trump and face re-election bids in 2022. Trump has already proposed that former Rep. Doug Collins challenge Kemp for the governorship.
Gillespie said political scientists will continue to study Trump's endorsements and their effects.