Other Than Through Death Or Prison, The GOP Will Never Be Free Of Trump
The biggest political grift in American history just continues rolling on. This morning, Chad Day and Alex Leary of the Wall Street Journal reported that Señor Trumpanzee has $102 million in political cash that he can wield as the GOP eyes retaking majorities in Congress next year. He can also use it, as is likely, to further enrich himself. Day and Leary noted that "The fundraising figures show that even after losing the 2020 election and being banned from multiple social-media platforms, Trump remains a draw for donations from Republican voters, particularly through email and text message solicitations."
His various unscrupulous PACs raked in over $82 million in the first half of 2021, about the same amount the RNC scooped up. He's been using at least some of the money in ways that benefit himself rather than any candidates, let alone the conservative movement building he claims, falsely, is uppermost in his activities
If Trump's congressional candidate, sleazy coal industry lobbyist Mike Carey, loses in the Ohio primary Tuesday-- unlikely-- Trump's political clout will crash and burn fast. His candidate's loss last week-- despite being a prohibitive frontrunner-- was a big blow to his standing as king-making. But it's an instance that can be easily explained away, since the TX-06 election was a general election between two Republicans and there is no doubt Democrats came out to vote-- against Trump. Patrick Svitek reported that, though Jake Ellzey had a more bipartisan appeal and a more positive, energetic campaign to balance Wright's full-throated Trump endorsement, it wasn't until Tuesday that Wright knew she was a goner. Her poll watchers reported that the kinds of voters who were showing up had changed-- "they're all wearing masks," reported a poll watcher to headquarters. Trump's endorsement, wrote Svitek, "may have contributed to her undoing in the runoff."
Yesterday, right-wing NY Times columnist Ross Douthat asked, rhetorically, how strong Trump's grip is on the GOP. Douthat, knows the "weakness" displayed by Trump this week doesn't mean his grip has loosened, not even a little. "The Republicans with the Trumpiest styles, figures like Matt Gaetz or Marjorie Taylor-Greene, have been opportunists, not Trump mentees," he wrote. "And the Republicans trying to create a lasting populism, from sitting senators like Josh Hawley and Tom Cotton to Senate candidates like J.D. Vance and Blake Masters, are doing so from outside Trumpworld, rather than as extensions of his will. Limits on his power, however, are not the same things as limits on his support. The rule in the Trump era is that you can oppose Trump indirectly or win without his endorsement-- but save for a few unusual cases, you can’t challenge him personally and expect to have Republican voters on your side. In areas that involve the details of policy or the machinery of governance, Trump can be defeated. In any referendum on the question 'Should Donald Trump be our leader in the battle against liberalism?' his winning record is unmatched."
Trump has a certain kind of political genius and a strong personal bond with the Republican base, and Trump’s influence ebbs the further you get from the world of rhetoric and personal identification. So Trump could shift official party priorities on entitlements or infrastructure, but he couldn’t actually get a health care or infrastructure bill passed. Trump could force Republicans to make excuses for his corruption, but he couldn’t get Mitch McConnell to endorse withdrawal from Afghanistan, or get his generals to do it.
And Trump could encourage a widespread belief that he was the victim of massive voter fraud, inspiring his most ardent fans to storm the Capitol-- but he couldn’t get Republican state legislatures or Republican-appointed judges or his own Justice Department to begin to go along with his election-overturning efforts.
This suggests that if you are worried about 2020 being replayed in a Trump revival in 2024, but this time with Republican state legislatures actually acting to overturn results, you should be looking for signs that Trump has found a way to fuse, in advance, support for himself with support for that specific move. To overcome his manifold weaknesses as an inside-game player, he would need not just sympathy for his inevitable voter-fraud allegations but also an understood rule, among G.O.P. statehouse leaders in Michigan, Pennsylvania or Arizona and their voters, that to support Trump simply is to support legislatures choosing presidents, with no daylight in between.
I think that rule will be very hard to impose. But the same analysis of Trump’s power suggests that the nomination itself will remain within his grasp (and an analysis of his character suggests that he will want it), no matter how many bipartisan bills pass over his objections or how many of his endorsements flop.
That’s because nobody imagines that an infrastructure vote or a random House election is really a referendum on Trump himself. But for a presidential primary candidate to convince Republicans that a vote for them is not a vote against Trump, even though Trump himself is on the ballot? That would require a truly special kind of political genius, which not even Ron DeSantis can be expected to possess.