Column: Trump’s goal is to solidify control over the GOP, not help it win elections
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said something interesting in Pennsylvania last week. He was campaigning for Republican Senate candidate David McCormick, who is running against Mehmet Oz, whom Donald Trump has endorsed.
“Just once, I’d love to see a Republican candidate stand up in a primary and say, ‘I am a moderate, establishment squish. I stand for absolutely nothing.’ It would be refreshingly honest at least. But nobody says that.” He then added, “And by the way, they all pledge their love for Donald Trump. ‘I love Donald Trump,’ ‘No, no. I love Donald Trump more.’ ‘No, no, no. I have Donald Trump tattooed on my rear end.’”
Cruz’s remarks invited mockery, given that he battled Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 all the way to the convention and then pledged his love for Trump — despite the fact that Trump had insulted Cruz’s wife, suggested Cruz’s father was linked to President Kennedy’s assassination and claimed Cruz stole the Iowa caucuses.
There’s no point sitting around pondering Cruz’s lack of self-awareness. Besides, he made a good point. It’s true that, with very few exceptions, Republican primary candidates do pledge their love for Trump. Some are more obsequiously shameless than others, of course. In Ohio, Josh Mandel lost his bid for the GOP senate nomination — and for Trump’s endorsement — despite running as the Renfield to Trump’s Dracula.
Besides memory-holing his own Trump sycophancy, the other strange note in Cruz’s performance was his claim that “the establishment” is still run by moderate Republican “squishes.” The “establishment” — everyone from nationalist donors like Peter Thiel to the Heritage Foundation to Fox News — is now mostly MAGA.
The House GOP’s transition to full MAGA was completed when they defenestrated Rep. Liz Cheney and replaced her with Rep. Elise Stefanik, who has transformed herself from Republican moderate to bright red Trump acolyte.
While it’s true that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has no love for Trump, he’s not a “moderate, establishment squish.” He has already said he would vote for Trump if he were the nominee in 2024.
The key to understanding the GOP primaries is to know that traditional conservative ideology or even competence aren’t qualifications or differentiators anymore. If they were, Cheney wouldn’t be a pariah, and Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert wouldn’t be stars. Everyone has to be an angry populist revolutionary who wants to see the world burn.
Of course, none of Trump’s criteria for endorsements has anything to do with ideological or even partisan litmus tests. Candidates seeking his endorsement must praise him lavishly. They also must subscribe to his bogus claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him. And, if they check those boxes, they need to have a better-than-good chance of winning — without his endorsement. Trump wants to pick winners, so he can take credit for being a kingmaker.
The real goal isn’t to expand the party, but to solidify his control of it. As Fred Bauer notes in National Review, Trump has been “more focused on asserting dominance over the GOP than ensuring that Republicans win elections.”
The irony is that Trump is now grappling with the woes of being the establishment. And while his agenda looks nothing like a normal establishment agenda, he still has to contend with ambitious politicians with their own agendas.
Kathy Barnette, another GOP Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, has taken to attacking the “swamp” in true Trumpian fashion. But who is the swamp now? People like Fox News’ Sean Hannity, who has carried more water for Trump than a thousand Gunga Dins.
“Although he coined the word, MAGA actually belongs to the people.” Barnette said in a recent debate. “Our values never, never shifted to President Trump’s values. It was President Trump who shifted and aligned with our values.” Translation: MAGA is bigger than Trump now.
Whatever happens in the primaries, the die has been cast. A candidate like McCormick, who didn’t get Trump’s endorsement, is nonetheless surrounding himself with former Trump staffers and talking a fairly Trumpian game. A politician like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis started out as a student and is now a MAGA master.
The MAGA revolution within the GOP succeeded, but as Jacques Mallet du Pan wrote in 1793 about the chaos in France, “Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.”
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