Trump Remains at the Heart of the Republican Party

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

To those who may have thought the absence of Trump tweets means the Republican Party has finally got over him,  I have one word: ha.

Two developments during the past week suggest that Trump remains a key – if not the key – player in the Republican Party.

Is that due to his charm, his grace, his savoir faire?

Uh no. Read on.

Texas Voter Law Change: Republicans Double Down on the Election Fraud Meme

The past couple of weeks have seen a wild ride in U.S. politics. Georgia passed its election law restrictions, triggering Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. Other corporations or their officers- Delta, Coca Cola, Citi, Cisco – criticized the measure in no uncertain terms, according to the NYT. Mitch McConnell responded by warning off corporations from participating in politics – as if facilitating that objective hasn’t been the principal raison d’être of his political career. Note he did say they should continue to make campaign contributions (see my Wednesday post. Mitch McConnell to U.S. Business: Stay Out of Politics – But Keep Those Contributions Coming, for more details on these shenanigans.)

And despite the corporate backlash against the Georgia action, Texas moved forward with its own new state election restrictions (see this account in The Hill for more details, Texas GOP move to overhaul voting laws: What you need to know.)

Now, Trump isn’t the father of Republican efforts to suppress voting. But he’s clearly one big current promoter. As I wrote in McConnell post, Trump lamented that the Georgia election law didn’t go far enough. More states where Republicans are in charge will almost certainly double down on the voting suppression path that Florida and Texas have blazed.

Weekend at Donald’s: Republicans Meet in Florida 

Well worth reading closely for what it suggests about the party’s future is a short AP piece, Bowing to Trump? GOP brings leaders, donors to his backyard, that appeared this morning,. This article explains just how central the Donald remains to Republican politics:

There will be no reckoning at the Republican National Committee.

Three months after former President Donald Trump helped incite a violent attack against Congress, the GOP is bringing hundreds of donors and several future presidential prospects to the former president’s doorstep in south Florida. While a handful of Republican leaders hope to move past Trump’s divisive leadership, the location of the invitation-only gathering suggests that the party, at least for now, is not ready to replace Trump as its undisputed leader and chief fundraiser.

Trump himself will headline the closed-door donor retreat, which is designed to raise millions of dollars for the GOP’s political arm while giving donors exclusive access to the party’s evolving group of 2024 prospects and congressional leaders. The weekend event will play out in an oceanfront luxury hotel just four miles from Trump’s Florida estate, where allies of the former president will simultaneously be holding their own fundraising events.

Note that Republican officials and donors have come to Trump and not vice versa – and that’s not merely because the weather in south Florida is mighty nice this time of year. Per the AP:

“The venue for the quarterly meeting along with Trump’s keynote speech at CPAC shows that the party is still very much in Trump’s grip,” said one of the invitees, GOP donor Dan Eberhart, referring to Trump’s February address at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida. “The party doesn’t seem to have the ability to hit escape velocity from its former standard bearer.”

Trump’s continued hold on Republican donors and elected officials ensures that Trumpism will remain the driving force in GOP politics indefinitely, even as Trump repeats the falsehood that fueled the Jan. 6 insurrection. In several public statements and appearance since leaving office, as recently as last weekend, Trump has declared that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him.

The AP article takes especial care to reject Trump’s electoral fraud claim – although I might say, how would anybody know whether it’s true or not? The move away from the gold standard of handmarked paper ballots hand counted in public means that it’s far easier to commit electoral fraud, whether that be for the last election or subsequent ones.

“The venue for the quarterly meeting along with Trump’s keynote speech at CPAC shows that the party is still very much in Trump’s grip,” said one of the invitees, GOP donor Dan Eberhart, referring to Trump’s February address at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida. “The party doesn’t seem to have the ability to hit escape velocity from its former standard bearer.”

Trump’s continued hold on Republican donors and elected officials ensures that Trumpism will remain the driving force in GOP politics indefinitely, even as Trump repeats the falsehood that fueled the Jan. 6 insurrection. In several public statements and appearance since leaving office, as recently as last weekend, Trump has declared that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him.

So, what this suggests is that other states where Republicans are in charge will follow in moving to adopt measures to counter “electoral fraud”. But the form these measures will take will be to suppress voting, rather than to adopt procedures that make fraud less possible, such as re-embracing the aforementioned system of handmarked paper ballots hand counted in public. Again over to the AP:

There is no evidence of significant voter fraud. In fact, several Republican governors and leading Trump administration officials have vouched for the integrity of President Joe Biden’s victory. Trump’s legal claims were roundly rejected by the courts, including by Trump-appointed justices at the Supreme Court.

But absent a consistent party message following Trump’s loss, a clear policy agenda or a coherent strategy to expand the GOP’s appeal, leading Republican elected officials and the RNC have increasingly embraced election fraud as a chief policy priority.

Trump Opponents Not Invited

Now, not just anyone can attend this weekend’s event. According to the AP:

The lineup at the weekend gathering notably excludes any leading Republicans who have pushed back against Trump’s claims or supported his impeachment. Those who aren’t expected to appear include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, No. 3 House Republican Liz Cheney, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney or Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

Okay, so we know who’s not going.

Who will be there instead? Per the AP:

The gathering will instead feature Trump himself and a slew of candidates already positioning themselves for a 2024 presidential bid, assuming Trump himself does not run again. The potential White House contenders include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. Also scheduled to speak are House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Jerri-Lynn here. Great! So the 2024 Republican presidential campaign kicks off this weekend.  Back to the AP account:

The weekend’s agenda will focus on party unity and how to expand the GOP, with sessions planned on the topics.

RNC member Henry Barbour, who helps lead the committee’s small-dollar fundraising apparatus, suggested the retreat was not set in Palm Beach to cater to Trump. He noted that such events are typically held in states such as Florida, New York, California and Texas.

With COVID restrictions, Barbour said, “The RNC has limited options.”

“We’re not in Florida so we can bow down to Donald Trump. No one needs to bow down to Donald Trump,” Barbour said in an interview. “He’s certainly an important part of Republican fundraising, but the party has to be bigger and broader than any one candidate.”

Hmm, I fear Henry Barbour doth protest too much. Look what else is planned:

The RNC has booked the entire Four Seasons Resort on Palm Beach for the weekend gathering, and there will be donor events at Trump’s nearby Mar-a-Lago estate to raise money for groups focused on Trump’s political future and policy priorities.

At the same time, a handful of leading Trump allies — including embattled Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and embattled Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz — will appear at a weekend conference of their own at Trump’s Doral golf resort 70 miles to the south in Miami. The host organization, Women for America First, helped organize the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the deadly attack on the Capitol.

Indeed, some leading Trump critics even conceded the Party’s yet to get over him – and may have squandered its chance to do so:

Former RNC staffer Tim Miller, who has emerged as a leading Trump critic in recent years, lamented the GOP’s continued coziness with the former president even after his role in the insurrection.

“There was a real opportunity in this three-month window, from Jan. 6 to now, for the party to make a concerted effort to say, ‘It’s time to move on,’” Miller said. “But they didn’t choose to do that. This is who the party is.”

Interestingly, Trump himself may be flirting with other options. When all is said and done,  this seems to boil down to a dispute over how to allocate money, the principal driver of U.S. politics as the game is currently played, Or to put it slightly differently, the key question is who will control the cash that flows from Trump’s continued popularity:

And while the GOP is embracing Trump, it’s not clear that Trump is embracing the GOP.

Just a month ago, Trump’s political action committee sent letters to the RNC and others asking them to “immediately cease and desist the unauthorized use of President Donald J. Trump’s name, image, and/or likeness in all fundraising, persuasion, and/or issue speech.”

GOP officials have repeatedly tried to downplay the fundraising tensions and see Trump’s participation as a sign that he is willing to lend his name to the party. At the same time, Trump continues to aggressively accumulate campaign cash — cash that the RNC, or the party’s next presidential nominee, does not control — including this week’s relaunch of his online merchandise store.

The Bottom Line

So, what’s the AP’s takeaway? Just as it’s been since he first started to contest the 2016 presidential election, writing off the Donald  – even now – still looks to be a bad bet:

Former Trump aide Hogan Gidley suggested Trump is as powerful as ever.

“People in D.C., inside the Beltway, think Donald Trump is radioactive,” Gidley said. “The Republican Party has grown, and it’s because of Donald Trump’s successes. To ignore that, you do so at your own peril.”

Pass the popcorn.

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  1. ambrit

    One aspect of Trump’s influence in American politics is the lack of a strong third party for the disaffected in America’s electorate to associate with and work through. Trump, love him or hate him, has found a niche in American politics that encompasses those disaffected citizens. That ‘niche’ voting bloc helped Trump pull out an ‘upset’ win in the 2016 presidential race. Absent the Coronavirus Pandemic, most accept that Trump would have won re-election in 2020. The lesson here is that the “Trump voters” hold the key to future Republican Party electoral fortunes.
    There are third party political organizations in American politics. However, as far as I can see, the extant third party groups are mainly formal sorts of ‘niche’ party. Various specific issues dominate most of these parties. This automatically limits their effective appeal to the broad public. Trump bypassed this dynamic by making himself the focus of the ‘disaffected’ electorate’s attention. Trump, the brand, subsumes narrow issue politics into an overarching “United Front” for the disaffected. For example, anti-abortion voters make common cause with Fourth Amendment voters. The two groups do not perfectly overlap. Under the Trump brand, the two groups can put aside their differences and agree to cooperate in the ‘big picture’ political arena.
    The above can be a very fruitful strategy for the Republican party to carry on into the future. Until Trump nominates, or, more properly, anoints, a successor, he will be at the centre of the whirlwind that is conservative politics in America. From what I have read about the man, versus the brand, that suits Trump to a ‘T’.
    It would be ironic in the extreme if Trump were to manage to somehow “save Capitalism from itself.” From what we’ve seen so far from the Democrat Party when it is in power, Trump might be the only politician in America today who is capable of doing so.

  2. JEHR

    If all the voters who call themselves “Independent” were to create a party called “The Independent Party,” they could have enough members to outvote either the Democrats or the Republicans.

    1. Ed Miller

      Independent Party? It already exists, but I suspect most of the members are actually people who don’t want to be in any party, they just want to be independent as in sovereign citizens. They don’t work together for common goals.

      Certainly you understand that getting those members to align would be worse than herding cats.

      1. Late Introvert

        I would never join any group that would have people like myself as members, and would quit in disgust if I ever did.

        I know that’s a paraphrase of a joke, but I think gets closer to the truth.

        So I agree @Ed Miller, I’m one cat not to be herded. But doing farming co-ops or something, sign me up. Focused, with clear material benefits. CCC anyone?

  3. Carolinian

    But but all the commentators were saying Trump would be indicted by now (not you Jerri-Lynn).

    I think the Acela elites don’t get that Trump support is aimed at them above all. Most of the Republican politicians likely fall into that category as well and also don’t like Trump, but can read tea leaves. The Dem strategy, on the other hand, is to increase the vote but for people you don’t want to vote for.

    Thomas Ferguson used to talk about America’s terrible voting participation and tagged the Duopoly as the true vote suppressor among the poor. Perhaps we should do like Austraila and legally mandate voting.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      There are lots of ways to increase turnout. Mandatory voting is one. Making voting day a public holiday is another.

      I took my first political science course with Tom during spring semester of 1981. And he was one of my two supervisors for my master’s thesis. What he and Walter Dean Burnham – the other supervisor – taught is that turnout isn’t higher because neither party wants it to be higher. If turnout were higher, the parties might have to offer some policies that appealed to a majority of voters. Instead, they serve up the menu that their donors decree. The party of non-voters would defeat either party’s candidate in most (if not all) U.S elections. Certainy so for elections held in off years when there’s no presidential contest.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      First you admit that the poor don’t vote because they have nothing to vote for or about, then you say the solution is to force the poor to mandatorily vote as in Australia. And if they refuse to vote, do you suggest giving them a fine, as in Australia?

      Mandatory voting is an admission that the system is heading towards Late Soviet Illegitimacy.

  4. voteforno6

    When all is said and done, it seems that it all boils down to money, the principal driver of U.S. politics as the game is currently played

    I would venture to say that money is the primary driver of Donald Trump as well.

    Still, it is comforting, I guess, to see that the Republican Party is in at least as much of a mess as the Democratic Party.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      At least the Republican party was “democratic” enough to permit a rebel to win its primaries and its nomination.

      The Democratic Party is too dictatyrannical to permit a rebel to win its primaries or its nomination.

      So which party is more illegitimate and is in the deeper self-uncorrectable-mess?

      1. neo-realist

        But the republican party isn’t democratic at all when it comes to allowing people to vote. Otherwise why would they be pursuing voter suppression legislation in 43 states? When their guy doesn’t win, it’s about keeping the people who voted against their guy from voting.

  5. Phil in KC

    The path of least resistance is at work here, going both ways. Trump has obviously seen the polls that show how strong his support is among Republicans, so he’s going to keep the Republican party for himself instead of starting a whole and new party, which is hard work.

    As for Republicans, they’ve seen how many are still enamored of the former President and have decided to stick with him through good and bad. They don’t have a chance at the polls without the MAGA’s, but they can’t expand the party with the MAGA’s sitting in the front rows, flexing their arms. So they’re stuck, the “they” here being non-Maga Republicans. The nationally elected ones are retiring, if that’s any kind of clue.

  6. marym

    Re: “Trump’s electoral fraud claim…how would anybody know whether it’s true or not?”

    Not disputing the advantages of hand marked/hand counted paper ballots or the potential vulnerability to error and malfeasance of both machine and human components of our current patchwork of electoral processes. However, this question has been asked and answered in many ways for the 2020 presidential election. Its usefulness in arguing for needed reforms to the system has unfortunately been undermined by the use to which it has been put.

    The answers have included:
    Full and partial hand recounts of both hand marked (vote by mail) and machine marked/voter verifiable paper ballots. Signature audits. Canvassing procedures such as comparison of votes cast to voters signing in at polling places; absentee ballot tracking; and ballot chain of custody procedures. Forensic audits of voting machines. State election officials certifying the count. Video monitoring of ballot drop boxes. Video monitoring/livestreaming of ballot counts and recounts. Trumpists testifying in courts that fraud wasn’t being alleged. Judges finding no evidence of fraud. 64 of 65 legal challenges dismissed or voluntarily withdrawn. No claims of fraud by Congress members from PA who voted to reject PA electoral votes. GA Lt. Governor saying new GA law based on misinformation. Republicans switching rhetoric from unsubstantiated claims of fraud to claiming they’re addressing their constituents’ “concerns” about fraud.

    Hundreds of bills have been introduced in states across the country to make registration and voting more difficult, and empower state legislators to intervene in election procedures in ways that Trump and his allies tried and failed to do in 2020. Whether Trump is scamming the party, the donors, or his non-elite followers remains to be seen, but he’s provided them with their latest excuse to pursue the goal of minority rule.

  7. George

    I attended a Trump rally in 2016. To me it appeared his “niche” was enamored with nothing more than the red meat of hate and fear being tossed out in lieu of policy. That included but not limited to trotting out survivors of the victims of homicide perpetrated by illegals and the colorful one sided accounts of their heartfelt experiences of that lost. His fire brand “who will pay for it?” (Border wall) was a real crowd pleaser and was repeated ad infinitum.

    So if this resembles a coherent strategy, then I must say it worked, and the groundswell of “what my country can do for me” has permeated the land to the point you show concern for its continuation, not that the times were that great anyhow.

    1. ambrit

      I’ll argue that your ultimate point is the important one; “…not that times were that great anyhow.”
      At the present time, America is in internal decline. This has become all too obvious to the “lower” quintiles of the population. The real value of “The American Dream” was not in the material goods that were the lure, but in the national consensus that the prospect of a broad based improvement in the common lot produced. People “played by the rules” because doing so was shown to be productive of a generally rising standard of living. Everyone shared in the growth and improved standards of living. (The real lesson of the Civil Rights struggle was that improvement was possible for all, while playing generally within the socially accepted rules. To that end, non-violent struggle was seen as a quintessentially American tactic, [no matter who it was originated by.])
      Today’s MAGA cohorts feel, rightfully, betrayed. Their parents ‘played by the rules’ and prospered. These recent ‘generations’ have seen that social contract abrogated, from above. Why should they ‘play by the rules’ anymore? Trump wriggled the lure of a transformative and restorative politics before the MAGA hordes. In a very real sense, Trump is a New Deal Conservative.
      Right now, this struggle is the Democrat Party’s to lose.
      Trump will be waiting in the wings.

      1. neo-realist

        If the MAGA’s hate the establishment so much, why don’t they unify with BLM (another group who’s parents played by the rules and were let down by the establishment because of the color of their skin)? They won’t because many of them don’t like them because of the color of their skin. As a matter of fact, when the cops started to get aggressive with them at the capitol riot, many of them insisted that they shouldn’t treated that way, only the BLM types should get such treatment. Such men and women of the people.

        1. ambrit

          Ha! As if the BLM were still an “organic” organization. The BLM seems to have been co-opted early on. If the BLM is a ‘next generation’ Civil Rights organization, then where is the central organizing principle? If one could convincingly argue that downward mobility was an universal condition now, then we might get somewhere on the organizing front.
          I’m with the “real” socialists on this one. The real issue is class, as defined through wealth accumulation, not just colour.

          1. Massinissa

            You’re right. And BLM became BML coopted pretty early on. There are some more dissident anti establishment BLM types, but most of it is a coopted IDPol mess.

  8. Geogre

    I really don’t see how civilization exist without rules but agree few follow them anymore.
    It really has become this all encompassing grift that cleverly disguised itself as opportunity, something surely missing from the security one needs to survive. Make America Great Again was a campaign slogan introduced by Ronald Regan, (really) and I suppose comparing those times to today one could become jaded but, would any amount of empathy solve the disturbing inequality that exist right now. What would a new deal even look like?

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      If that is true, did the Heirs of Reagan and the Keepers of the Reagan Estate give Trump permission to use it?

  9. George

    I really don’t see how civilization exist without rules but agree few follow them anymore.
    It really has become this all encompassing grift that cleverly disguised itself as opportunity, something surely missing from the security one needs to survive. Make America Great Again was a campaign slogan introduced by Ronald Regan, (really) and I suppose comparing those times to today one could become jaded but, would any amount of empathy solve the disturbing inequality that exist right now. What would a new deal even look like?

    1. Lambert Strether

      “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” –Aleister Crowley

      For the 1%, certainly (see under Jeffrey Epstein, etc. etc. etc.). For the rest of us, not so much.

      1. ambrit

        Crowley and his fellow travelers espouse a sort of diabolism. This might seem the perfect ‘religion’ for a ‘super elite.’ Let us remember though that throughout history, the societies in which those diabolists lived and fed endured phases of “witch” finding and burning. The “elites” became the hunted outcasts. As you often write; “Burn it with fire.”
        I comfort myself with the thought that our present day ‘elites’ have fallen into the trap of hubris. Next comes Nemesis.

  10. Sound of the Suburbs

    You need to find someone else to blame for your problems.
    The UK lashed out and placed the blame on the EU because no one had the faintest idea what the real problem was.

    Free markets, free trade and EU membership will bring us all prosperity.
    Did you mean ten years of austerity?
    Obviously something had gone badly wrong.

    “Try and pretend it never happened” the Remainers
    Oh dear, they are not going to get very far that way.

    You need to place the blame somewhere and then explain how you’ll fix it.
    The Conservatives blamed it on the EU and everything would be fine after Brexit.
    This is where the trouble starts, because the EU wasn’t actually the problem.

    You can’t just say the status quo is fine, when it isn’t.
    Liberals really need to start putting a bit more effort in to find out what is causing today’s problems.
    Populists just have to find a scapegoat, and say they have found the problem.
    Trump just had to find some scapegoats to blame and the next thing you know he was the President of the US.
    Liberals don’t seem to know how to fix things.

    The Right just look for scapegoats.
    Liberals have no idea how to fix anything.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      The liberals knew how to fix the DemParty nomination process for Biden. So it appears they know how to fix their way the things they care about.

  11. Edward

    The more the establishment attacks Trump the stronger he becomes. Many Americans despise the establishment. I think the Democrats hope for challenging Trump lies with Sander’s style of populism; the usual status quo politics won’t work. But the Dem establishment despises and fears Sanders and his supporters. Will they continue to obstruct this movement, or will they make concessions for the sake of opposing Trump? Up till now they have done the former.

  12. Bob

    IMHO the yearning for better times fueled both Obama and Trump. Both ran on a promise of change.
    One of the central premises of our dear leader and former president is that he was screwed and by extension we all are screwed.
    Who hasn’t been screwed with a parking ticket, a rough arrest, a poorly explained credit card charge that borders on fraud, a tax bill that somehow wealthy concerns seem to be able to dodge all together, a medical bill, an employer destroyed by financiers, a passenger rail system which other developed countries seem to be able to have and the US cannot, — and so it goes.
    Our dear leader and former president has used this to gain power nd money and he will continue do so as long as he is able.

  13. Starry Gordon

    I doubt if any ruling class can rule the country the size and complexity of the United States plus satellites on a basis of tribalism. Once actual problems have to be solved, and differences adjusted, the absolutes of tribalism will either fail or the situation will degenerate into civil war. When the system falls through the thin ice, it won’t matter a whole lot which part of the thin ice it falls through.

    1. Massinissa

      A Trump vs Pence Republican Primary would be mildly hilarious. Though I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that Pence could win a matchup like that. Or any moderate Republican really. The only sure way to beat Trump would be with a more right wing radical candidate. I can’t imagine Pence or Romney or another swamp Republican would be able to beat Trump.

  14. Bruce

    Every journalist knows that a personal “human interest” story is essential to effective reporting. Why is it that there has been no article written on voter registration (that I have seen) that tells the personal story of a would-be voter who couldn’t vote for a lack of identification.

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