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Trump Remains at the Heart of the Republican Party

Summary:
By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans. To those who may have thought the absence of Trump tweets means the Republican Party has finally got over him,  I have one word: ha. Two developments during the past week suggest that Trump remains a key – if not the key – player in the Republican Party. Is that due to his charm, his grace, his savoir faire? Uh no. Read on. Texas Voter Law Change: Republicans Double Down on the Election Fraud Meme The past couple of weeks have seen a wild ride in U.S. politics. Georgia passed its election law restrictions, triggering Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. Other corporations or their officers- Delta, Coca

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By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

To those who may have thought the absence of Trump tweets means the Republican Party has finally got over him,  I have one word: ha.

Two developments during the past week suggest that Trump remains a key – if not the key – player in the Republican Party.

Is that due to his charm, his grace, his savoir faire?

Uh no. Read on.

Texas Voter Law Change: Republicans Double Down on the Election Fraud Meme

The past couple of weeks have seen a wild ride in U.S. politics. Georgia passed its election law restrictions, triggering Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. Other corporations or their officers- Delta, Coca Cola, Citi, Cisco – criticized the measure in no uncertain terms, according to the NYT. Mitch McConnell responded by warning off corporations from participating in politics – as if facilitating that objective hasn’t been the principal raison d’être of his political career. Note he did say they should continue to make campaign contributions (see my Wednesday post. Mitch McConnell to U.S. Business: Stay Out of Politics – But Keep Those Contributions Coming, for more details on these shenanigans.)

And despite the corporate backlash against the Georgia action, Texas moved forward with its own new state election restrictions (see this account in The Hill for more details, Texas GOP move to overhaul voting laws: What you need to know.)

Now, Trump isn’t the father of Republican efforts to suppress voting. But he’s clearly one big current promoter. As I wrote in McConnell post, Trump lamented that the Georgia election law didn’t go far enough. More states where Republicans are in charge will almost certainly double down on the voting suppression path that Florida and Texas have blazed.

Weekend at Donald’s: Republicans Meet in Florida 

Well worth reading closely for what it suggests about the party’s future is a short AP piece, Bowing to Trump? GOP brings leaders, donors to his backyard, that appeared this morning,. This article explains just how central the Donald remains to Republican politics:

There will be no reckoning at the Republican National Committee.

Three months after former President Donald Trump helped incite a violent attack against Congress, the GOP is bringing hundreds of donors and several future presidential prospects to the former president’s doorstep in south Florida. While a handful of Republican leaders hope to move past Trump’s divisive leadership, the location of the invitation-only gathering suggests that the party, at least for now, is not ready to replace Trump as its undisputed leader and chief fundraiser.

Trump himself will headline the closed-door donor retreat, which is designed to raise millions of dollars for the GOP’s political arm while giving donors exclusive access to the party’s evolving group of 2024 prospects and congressional leaders. The weekend event will play out in an oceanfront luxury hotel just four miles from Trump’s Florida estate, where allies of the former president will simultaneously be holding their own fundraising events.

Note that Republican officials and donors have come to Trump and not vice versa – and that’s not merely because the weather in south Florida is mighty nice this time of year. Per the AP:

“The venue for the quarterly meeting along with Trump’s keynote speech at CPAC shows that the party is still very much in Trump’s grip,” said one of the invitees, GOP donor Dan Eberhart, referring to Trump’s February address at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida. “The party doesn’t seem to have the ability to hit escape velocity from its former standard bearer.”

Trump’s continued hold on Republican donors and elected officials ensures that Trumpism will remain the driving force in GOP politics indefinitely, even as Trump repeats the falsehood that fueled the Jan. 6 insurrection. In several public statements and appearance since leaving office, as recently as last weekend, Trump has declared that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him.

The AP article takes especial care to reject Trump’s electoral fraud claim – although I might say, how would anybody know whether it’s true or not? The move away from the gold standard of handmarked paper ballots hand counted in public means that it’s far easier to commit electoral fraud, whether that be for the last election or subsequent ones.

“The venue for the quarterly meeting along with Trump’s keynote speech at CPAC shows that the party is still very much in Trump’s grip,” said one of the invitees, GOP donor Dan Eberhart, referring to Trump’s February address at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida. “The party doesn’t seem to have the ability to hit escape velocity from its former standard bearer.”

Trump’s continued hold on Republican donors and elected officials ensures that Trumpism will remain the driving force in GOP politics indefinitely, even as Trump repeats the falsehood that fueled the Jan. 6 insurrection. In several public statements and appearance since leaving office, as recently as last weekend, Trump has declared that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him.

So, what this suggests is that other states where Republicans are in charge will follow in moving to adopt measures to counter “electoral fraud”. But the form these measures will take will be to suppress voting, rather than to adopt procedures that make fraud less possible, such as re-embracing the aforementioned system of handmarked paper ballots hand counted in public. Again over to the AP:

There is no evidence of significant voter fraud. In fact, several Republican governors and leading Trump administration officials have vouched for the integrity of President Joe Biden’s victory. Trump’s legal claims were roundly rejected by the courts, including by Trump-appointed justices at the Supreme Court.

But absent a consistent party message following Trump’s loss, a clear policy agenda or a coherent strategy to expand the GOP’s appeal, leading Republican elected officials and the RNC have increasingly embraced election fraud as a chief policy priority.

Trump Opponents Not Invited

Now, not just anyone can attend this weekend’s event. According to the AP:

The lineup at the weekend gathering notably excludes any leading Republicans who have pushed back against Trump’s claims or supported his impeachment. Those who aren’t expected to appear include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, No. 3 House Republican Liz Cheney, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney or Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

Okay, so we know who’s not going.

Who will be there instead? Per the AP:

The gathering will instead feature Trump himself and a slew of candidates already positioning themselves for a 2024 presidential bid, assuming Trump himself does not run again. The potential White House contenders include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. Also scheduled to speak are House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Jerri-Lynn here. Great! So the 2024 Republican presidential campaign kicks off this weekend.  Back to the AP account:

The weekend’s agenda will focus on party unity and how to expand the GOP, with sessions planned on the topics.

RNC member Henry Barbour, who helps lead the committee’s small-dollar fundraising apparatus, suggested the retreat was not set in Palm Beach to cater to Trump. He noted that such events are typically held in states such as Florida, New York, California and Texas.

With COVID restrictions, Barbour said, “The RNC has limited options.”

“We’re not in Florida so we can bow down to Donald Trump. No one needs to bow down to Donald Trump,” Barbour said in an interview. “He’s certainly an important part of Republican fundraising, but the party has to be bigger and broader than any one candidate.”

Hmm, I fear Henry Barbour doth protest too much. Look what else is planned:

The RNC has booked the entire Four Seasons Resort on Palm Beach for the weekend gathering, and there will be donor events at Trump’s nearby Mar-a-Lago estate to raise money for groups focused on Trump’s political future and policy priorities.

At the same time, a handful of leading Trump allies — including embattled Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and embattled Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz — will appear at a weekend conference of their own at Trump’s Doral golf resort 70 miles to the south in Miami. The host organization, Women for America First, helped organize the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the deadly attack on the Capitol.

Indeed, some leading Trump critics even conceded the Party’s yet to get over him – and may have squandered its chance to do so:

Former RNC staffer Tim Miller, who has emerged as a leading Trump critic in recent years, lamented the GOP’s continued coziness with the former president even after his role in the insurrection.

“There was a real opportunity in this three-month window, from Jan. 6 to now, for the party to make a concerted effort to say, ‘It’s time to move on,’” Miller said. “But they didn’t choose to do that. This is who the party is.”

Interestingly, Trump himself may be flirting with other options. When all is said and done,  this seems to boil down to a dispute over how to allocate money, the principal driver of U.S. politics as the game is currently played, Or to put it slightly differently, the key question is who will control the cash that flows from Trump’s continued popularity:

And while the GOP is embracing Trump, it’s not clear that Trump is embracing the GOP.

Just a month ago, Trump’s political action committee sent letters to the RNC and others asking them to “immediately cease and desist the unauthorized use of President Donald J. Trump’s name, image, and/or likeness in all fundraising, persuasion, and/or issue speech.”

GOP officials have repeatedly tried to downplay the fundraising tensions and see Trump’s participation as a sign that he is willing to lend his name to the party. At the same time, Trump continues to aggressively accumulate campaign cash — cash that the RNC, or the party’s next presidential nominee, does not control — including this week’s relaunch of his online merchandise store.

The Bottom Line

So, what’s the AP’s takeaway? Just as it’s been since he first started to contest the 2016 presidential election, writing off the Donald  – even now – still looks to be a bad bet:

Former Trump aide Hogan Gidley suggested Trump is as powerful as ever.

“People in D.C., inside the Beltway, think Donald Trump is radioactive,” Gidley said. “The Republican Party has grown, and it’s because of Donald Trump’s successes. To ignore that, you do so at your own peril.”

Pass the popcorn.

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