One year ago today, Donald Trump was three weeks into his ongoing I’m Not Crying You’re Crying post-defeat revenge tour, and the Republican herd was nervous. They knew this predator all too well. Trump feasted on the flesh of friend and foe with equal delight, he hardly seemed to sleep, and with dreaded irrelevance staring him dead in the face (along with the possibility of poverty and prison), he was more motivated than ever before.
“Trump’s attacks on Govs. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Mike DeWine Ohio — both of whom are up for reelection in 2022 — has led to broader concerns within the party that he will use his post-presidency to exact revenge on perceived enemies and insert himself into races in ways that are not helpful,” reported Politico on November 22, 2020. “Trump’s intrusions into Georgia and Ohio provide an early test case for how he might use his stranglehold on the conservative base to control the party long after he leaves the White House. Never mind that Trump will no longer be in power: Cross him, and you will pay.”
A year later, the GOP appears for all intents and purposes to be riding high. The rise of the COVID-19 Delta variant staggered the country’s economic and social recovery from the pandemic, and the populace seems to be taking their exhaustion and frustration out on the party in power. A messy withdrawal from Afghanistan and a revolt by conservative Democrats against President Biden’s domestic agenda opened the floodgates for the “news” media’s favorite trope: Dems in Disarray.
A broad spectrum of polling data has Republicans leading the Democrats in the upcoming 2022 midterms, and recent victories in Virginia’s statewide elections — where Biden won by 10 points a year ago — further suggest the GOP is enjoying significant political momentum as we head into the holiday season.
Republicans should be wreathed in smiles; every time a party has been so positioned a year before the midterms, that party has gained seats come voting time. Why then are furrowed brows clouding their festive spirit?
“As the country’s Republican governors met this week, there was an unmistakable air of celebration in the conference rooms and cocktail parties marking their annual postelection conference,” reports The New York Times. “Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin of Virginia was swarmed with well-wishers and favor seekers who believed his victory in a liberal-leaning state offered the party a road map for next year’s midterm elections. Out of earshot of the reporters and donors congregating amid the palm trees and cactuses of the Arizona Biltmore resort, however, a more sober, less triumphant and all-too-familiar conversation was taking place among the governors: What could be done about Donald J. Trump?”
A year after Republicans fretted over Trump’s attacks on Kemp and DeWine, the former president has upped his efforts by an order of magnitude. Trump-inspired laws intended to thwart voters of color have been passed in more than a dozen states, and Trump loyalists are being installed in state offices all over the country, obtaining positions that could allow them to determine the outcome of the 2024 election regardless of what the voters say.
His attacks against fellow Republicans — those who voted to impeach him, those who voted in favor of Biden’s infrastructure bill, and those who have not kissed his ring with sufficiently slobbering velocity — find themselves in primary fights with Trump-approved QAnon candidates who have as much business in government as a hammerhead shark has in a public pool.
Trump does not even require an election-sized grudge to release the hounds of personal vengeance. He is currently trying to oust Alabama’s Republican Gov. Kay Ivey because he inaccurately blames her for a cancelled rally this summer. “Ivey, a longtime statewide official, has served as governor since 2017 and has been a reliable Trump supporter,” reports Insider. “In May 2018, the governor signed a letter advocating for the then-president to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomatic efforts with North and South Korea.” NOT GOOD ENOUGH, off with her head.
Trump’s scattershot shredding of his own party’s incumbents, along with his tendency to endorse candidates who (putting it mildly) don’t stand up to scrutiny, is not sitting well with the old guard. “It’s outrageous, unacceptable and bad for the party,” raged Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, who went on to unambiguously denounce what he refers to as “Trump cancel culture.”
Chris Sununu, the Republican governor of New Hampshire, said on Sunday that the actions of Trump and his congressional allies were “ruining America.” Chris Christie, former Republican governor of New Jersey, recently told his GOP allies that they needed to “renounce the conspiracy theories and truth deniers” who have been the headwinds filling Trump’s sails. Small revolutions such as these, according to The Atlantic’s Peter Nicholas, may seem to indicate Trump’s stranglehold on the Republican Party is beginning to slip.
Don’t hold your breath. Donald Trump feeds off the spotlight like plants feed off sunlight, and if he feels he is even one lumen short of his due, he will grind whatever grist is necessary to take it back. At present, more and more of that spotlight is being redirected to Florida’s Republican Governor, Ron DeSantis, and Trump is growing more furious by the day. DeSantis, a seeming frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination if Trump chooses not to run in 2024, was championed by the former president only a year ago. Now, Trump is demanding that DeSantis swear off any thoughts of a presidential bid.
“Trump’s gripes are so frequent because he is planting them in hopes that they’ll get back to DeSantis,” reports Politico. “Trump has told his advisers that DeSantis privately assured him that he won’t run if Trump does, but that’s not enough for the former president — he wants DeSantis to say it in public.” Why? If you listen to Trump, it’s because DeSantis has not been properly loyal to him, the former president who (according to that former president) made DeSantis what he is.
The Democrats have reeled from crisis to crisis this summer and fall, suffering more than a few self-inflicted wounds along the way, and the media echo chamber has done them no favors. Republicans appear set to make tall gains next year at both the state and federal levels, thanks in no small part to a gerrymandering effort that would make Huey Long barf into his hat.
Yet they have The Fear, and its name is Donald. The once and wannabe-future president has an enormous campaign hoard, and millions of people follow his every word as if his proclamations and denunciations were being carved onto stone tablets. Trump has the power to upend elections, and a number of the people he hates are current Republican incumbents.
The Democrats may be in disarray, but the GOP is facing nothing less than an existential crisis over the next two election seasons. Any long-term plans with Trump involved promise to be a clinic on chaos.