The GOP is still very much Trump’s party
“Liz, you’re fired,” Trump roared, not to hundreds but to thousands who attended a rally recently in Casper, Wyoming. He was lambasting GOP congresswoman Liz Cheney, one of his most vociferous GOP critics. She almost certainly was doomed to lose her seat to a Trump-backed challenger in the GOP primary. The Wyoming Trump rally was part devotional, part revival, and part Trump adulation. The rash of probes, FBI raids, subpoenas and congressional hearings into his role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection meant absolutely nothing to the Trump throngs.
The Wyoming Trump lovefest and the certain defeat of Cheney were just one more sign that Trump’s grip on the GOP hasn’t loosened. In the rash of primaries in several states the first week of August, Trump-endorsed candidates either won their primary jousts or were competitive. Even scarier, the candidates were a motley bunch of white nationalists, Biden election deniers, and conspiracy theorists. They were anything but nut-case outliers — they are an intimate part of the political soul of the GOP going forward.
Many people are still mystified about one of the greatest ironies of American politics. That is, how Trump, a guy that almost no one in the GOP political establishment liked in the beginning, and despite everything dirty about him still owns and runs that establishment lock, stock and barrel. Start with the numbers. The 74 million votes he got in his 2020 presidential loss is the greatest number of votes a losing presidential candidate has gotten in a free election anywhere, ever. In fact, it’s a greater number than any American presidential winner had ever gotten. But it’s how Trump got those staggering numbers that still tell much about why GOP politicians of all stripes remain scared stiff of Trump.
In part, it’s rage and rebellion against the perceived wheeling-and-dealing corporate beltway Democrats and Republicans. In another, it’s a passionate belief that Trump talks the talk and fights the fight for less-educated blue-collar and rural workers, a healthy segment of middle-class suburbia, and a not inconsiderable number of Blacks and Hispanics. In even bigger part, it’s his deep tap of the racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, nativist, know-nothing fear and loathing that is a foundational part of American life.
These remain powerful, undeniable forces that propel American politics. So powerful, that in spite of the irrefutable proof that the 2020 presidential vote and vote process was accurate and untainted, more than half of Republicans two years after the election still doggedly claim the election was stolen from Trump.
Trump’s vote numbers and the frenzy of his backers are the life support of the GOP. Without them, the GOP is in grave danger of losing one or more of the nearly two dozen Senate seats that it must defend in the 2022 mid-term elections. Any GOP falling off the cliff here means the GOP can kiss any chance it has to take back the Senate goodbye.
Much is made that America will no longer be an old-white-guy-run country in 2050, that white male voters have steadily dropped in national elections, and that Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women and young persons will be the new majority voters. But that’s still a long way off. White males still have outsized voter clout in the crucial Heartland states and the South.
Trump knows that and talks to them in the giant circus-like exhibitions that pass for campaign rallies. He openly brags at his rallies that he’ll continue to do exactly what got him elected in 2016. That is, play hard on his base’s latent racist, anti-immigrant, anti-woman, pseudo-patriotic sentiment. The added element, in light of the probes, raids on his compound and the Congressional Jan. 6 investigation, is to play even harder on the conspiracy-to-get-him theory.
The blunt reality is that Trump was always more than the titular head of the GOP. He was the point man for GOP policy and issues and, in a perverse way, the spur to get action on them. Trump showed that he could give the GOP a big boost in its relentless drive to tamp down Democratic voter turnout by rigging, playing dirty and gerrymandering. That millions swear by him still is frightening proof that the GOP is still very much Trump’s party.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.