For months, pundits have followed with close scrutiny Republican primaries nationwide in an attempt to parse out former President Donald Trump’s hold over the Republican Party. Though all of these primaries are relevant, no primary was as symbolic and reflective of political reality as the shellacking Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY) received at the hands of Trump-backed Harriet Hageman.
Cheney has been the most influential Republican to push back against the former president, most notably in her work on the January 6th Select Committee. She was ousted from her position in GOP leadership for her criticisms of the former president and had seen her political support collapse as a result of Trump’s attacks. Cheney wasn’t expected to win, but her loss, almost 40 points in margin, was even worse than expected.
As an iron-clad conservative, the idea that Liz Cheney would lose a primary, let alone lose a primary to someone who in some ways is to her right, would have been a foreign concept less than two years ago. As Trump and Cheney differed over made-up electoral fraud, and as January 6th and its subsequent impeachment and investigation played out, Cheney’s support among Republicans dwindled, all at the hands of Trump and his accomplices.
For Cheney, past is prologue. Out of the 231 candidates Trump has endorsed this primary season, 212 of them have won. And while many of these have been petty ways to rack up wins, such as his more than 60 endorsements in uncontested races, many races have been true contests where Trump inevitably played kingmaker.
In many of the biggest races in the country, it’s Trump’s handpicked radical candidates carrying the banner for the GOP. JD Vance in Ohio, Kari Lake and Blake Masters in Arizona, and Herschel Walker in Georgia are some who have won statewide. Former daytime television host Mehmet Oz was also carried to a tight victory in Pennsylvania by Trump, as was Dan Cox in Maryland, a radical who, with the help of Trump, overcame establishment figures. And down ballot, Trump has orchestrated almost a complete erasure of the 10 House Republicans who voted for his second impeachment.
While Cheney and others’ losses, and in turn Trump’s wins, have helped to illustrate a near-total changing of the Republican guard, one can also turn to multiple other aspects that have shown Trump’s cemented support.
In arguably the most vulnerable moment for Trump since January 6 and its following impeachment, when the FBI conducted a search warrant at the Mar-a-Lago Club as part of a sprawling investigation into egregious mishandling of top secret documents, the near-unanimous and full-throated defense of Trump by the GOP was quite astonishing.
Given a moment to once again inch away from the former president with at least a little less political pushback, prominent Republicans stood by him. The party cast the event as nothing more than a political hit job; a belief purely detached from reality, yet the dominating sentiment within the party.
It was no surprise that the party that once asked for prison for Hillary Clinton over the supposed mishandling of an email server had a much different tone when it came to Trump’s mishandling of documents. But GOP politicians didn’t simply stay silent or tip-toe the issue, they ate up every bit of Trump’s claims about the events at Mar-a-Lago and ran with it. And notably, conservative media did the same.
Moreover, Trump’s support among Republican voters has remained rock solid beyond the beltway, and perhaps even more so at the grassroots level. While it is true that polling suggests many in the party would rather Trump take a backseat in 2024, when push comes to shove, and he is offered as a choice, he wins. Polling has consistently shown the former President receiving 2-3 times more support than his leading competitor, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. All other politicians seldom notch double digits in polls where Trump is included.
Similarly, the continued attempt to will Ron DeSantis to be the flag bearer of the GOP by the media and some in the party does not hold up to reality. Not only is Trump beating DeSantis by 2-3 times in polling, but he is doing so without attacking him. No one is better at labeling political opponents than him, and he has more control over his base than any Republican in the modern political era. His treatment of his rivals for the Republican nomination in 2016 demonstrated that clearly.
If and when Trump finally takes the glove off on DeSantis, his support will grow even more. And how could DeSantis, who has modeled his career off of Trumpism and more or less treated Trump as the second coming of Jesus Christ, suddenly argue Trump is the lesser option?
Though many have looked to amplify and zero-in on the handful of true defeats the former President has taken, or the few and far between polls that show DeSantis with a chance, taken in totality, the data and political reality are clear. The Republican Party is still Donald Trump’s party, and not nearly enough politicians or voters have shown any interest in changing that.
Devon Hesano is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.