Almost two years after Donald J. Trump left the White House, many GOP strategists and candidates are wondering—will the party ever return to pre-Trump political normalcy?
Trump’s nomination in the 2016 Republican primary and subsequent election to the presidency marked a turning point in GOP politics. Trump’s populist, say-it-like-it-is bravado turned off some of the Republican establishment. Others embraced it wholesale. Some tried to navigate the tricky happy medium.
Arguably Trump’s most vocal Republican opponent, Wyoming representative Liz Cheney, lost her Tuesday primary to Trump-endorsed challenger Harriet Hageman. Cheney’s loss in the Republican primary is seen as a bellwether for sentiment about Trump, and specifically his critics, among the GOP base.
CNN contributor Hillary Rosen referred to Cheney as, “a woman without a party” in a TV appearance Tuesday.
“There’s really no party that Liz Cheney is going to be welcome in at this point,” Rosen said.
Rep. Liz Cheney’s uphill battle to keep her seat in Wyoming’s GOP primary on Tuesday underscores how Donald Trump’s hold on the Republican Party is tightening even as the former President’s legal challenges are mounting. My take. https://t.co/owt0shetqx
— Ronald Brownstein (@RonBrownstein) August 16, 2022
With some exceptions, Trump-backed candidates seem to be faring well in the primaries heading into the November midterms. Dr. Oz won his primary election in June in Pennsylvania. Trump-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake won in Arizona. Blake Masters won his Senate primary in Arizona. Sarah Palin moved to the August special election in her House race in Alaska. The list goes on.
Not only did Trump-endorsed candidates do well, but House Republicans running for reelection who voted to impeach Trump are largely losing their primaries. Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump, lost his primary to Trump-endorsed John Gibbs in August. Trump-endorsed Russell Fry beat Rep. Tom Rice, who voted to impeach Trump, in a Congressional primary in South Carolina. Rep. Dan Newhouse, the exception, did win his primary in Washington despite voting for Trump’s impeachment.
Today’s stunning split-screen moment: Trump’s grip on his party has never seemed stronger after Jan. 6 — see today’s
Cheney primary in WY.
But Trump’s legal peril also has never seemed greater — see Giuliani, Weisselberg and Mar-a-Lago https://t.co/AbnaH0xEFC
— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) August 16, 2022
“The party is not going back to anything that looks anything like the party I came up in,” Sarah Longwell, a Never-Trumper GOP strategist, told The Washington Post. (RELATED: Trump’s Endorsements Face Major Test Against Established GOP Candidates)
Vocal Trump critic Bill Kristol bemoaned the lack of anti-Trump sentiment in the GOP, a trend that has become evident in the midterm primary cycle. There isn’t some “hidden group of Republicans yearning to free themselves from all this Trump stuff,” Kristol said.
“’Things are bad, is my analysis, things are bad,’ said Sarah Longwell, a never-Trumper GOP strategist. ‘The party is not going back to anything that looks anything like the party I came up in.’” https://t.co/qRxCpS9K9b
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) August 15, 2022
Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison put it bluntly.
“This is, and always has been, Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” he said.
After primary wins, Georgia Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan admitted that what at first seemed like a passing phase—Trump’s popularity with Republicans—is proving its staying power. (RELATED: Trump Refuses To Endorse GOP Senate Candidate In Crowded Race, Praises Greitens)
Liz Cheney and a small but influential bloc of anti-Trump Republicans have decided that there must be a 2024 candidate who will run as an unabashed opponent of both the ex-president and other contenders who spew his mistruths about the 2020 election. https://t.co/YTDkSpNdOS
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) August 15, 2022
“For a pretty good stretch, it felt like the Trump movement was losing more ground than it was gaining,” Duncan said. That is, until the “incredibly swift tail wind,” of the 2022 primaries.
Even Mitt Romney, who voted twice to impeach Trump, admitted the former president’s remaining popularity with the party.
“I don’t delude myself into thinking I have a big swath of the Republican Party,” Romney said, according to Politico. “It’s hard to imagine anything that would derail his support.”
Whether he runs again or not, Trump’s influence on the party is here to stay. Republican candidates who vocally opposed the former president are getting ousted by the GOP base. Trump-endorsed candidates are winning their primaries. The question going forward will be whether Trump-adjacent candidates can carry this momentum into the general election. Trumpism may not have lost its appeal among the GOP base, but general election voters may need more persuading.