It’s been said that revenge is best served cold. And when it comes to the Republicans who voted to impeach him in the waning days of his presidency, Donald Trump has gone way beyond his signature verbal broadsides. In seeking redress of his grievances with what he considers RINO turncoats, he has become the political equivalent of a stone-cold assassin.
Bent on retaliation at almost any cost against the ten GOP House members – most famously including Liz Cheney of Wyoming – who voted with Democrats to remove him from office, the 45th president pulled no punches in naming the offending parties one-by-one, as in a roll call, and demanding of his first post-presidential conservative audience to “get rid of them all.” But as the quintessential man of action never given to trusting members of the embedded political order even – or especially – in his own party, Trump has taken matters into his own hands by proactively rallying, supporting, and endorsing ambitious acolytes of his America First agenda. And by all accounts, the Republicans-in-name-only targeted by Trump are ripe for the taking.
But while Trump’s public stance on these in-house detractors is typically full of sound and fury, it is his often-unseen hand and influence, the shadow of orange, which is shaking the party to its core. And he isn’t limiting his targets to the House. The long arm of Trump extends to Senate and gubernatorial races soon to hit the radar screen.
In the latest revealing turn of events, upstart Jackson Lahmeyer, the MAGA-friendly challenger to Oklahoma GOP Senator James Lankford, was endorsed this week by the state’s party chairman, John Bennett. Lankford, a moderate who offered only the most tepid support for Trump, was stunned, telling Tulsa World it is “highly unusual for a state party chair in any state in America to come out and say, ‘I’m not going to at least be neutral.’” While this may seem a minor development, it speaks volumes about the unambiguous preferences of the party base. And major media, far from minimizing this defining GOP storyline, is willingly advancing the narrative, perhaps hoping for one more swing at the Trump pinata – and a shot of adrenaline for their incredible shrinking consumer base.
As left-leaning Bloomberg News termed it, “grassroots party members have shunned those who haven’t shown fealty to the defeated ex-president.” Equally liberal Newsweek echoed the same sentiment: “Even out of office, Trump retains control of the Republican Party, and the future is doomed in the GOP for anyone who vigorously opposes the 45th president.” Former GOP Rep. Joe Walsh put it another way: “If any of the 10 [targeted incumbents] are up against a primary challenger who’s a Trumper and who can breathe, walk and talk at the same time, they’re gonna lose.” As for likely results, Dave Wasserman of the famed Cook Political Report sets the bar: “Overall, I’d be surprised if more than three of the 10 are still in Congress in 2023.”
Once Joe Biden was declared the winner of the election and the ugliness of January 6 entered the history books, Trump made revenge against his party’s non-bitter-enders the centerpiece of his crusade to re-cleanse the Republican Party of the very establishment forces he so thoroughly vanquished in 2016. But the Never-Trump wing of the party, dramatically overestimated and overexposed by anti-Trump media, are pouncing on the opportunity of Trump being cast from power to test the waters for a return to their glory days. The former president intends to stop the “lose with dignity” movement dead in its tracks.
After the debacle in Georgia surrounding the 2020 presidential election and the senate races this January, which improbably handed Democrats control of the upper chamber, Trump vented his wrath on much-vilified (by both sides) Governor Brian Kemp. The former president has openly vowed to dip into his wealth of political capital by backing the challenger in the state’s 2022 gubernatorial contest, Vernon Jones, the black state legislator who abandoned the Democratic Party, endorsed Trump and joined the GOP. The sitting lieutenant governor and secretary of state, blamed along with Kemp for the disastrous turn of events in the Peach State, are also likely to receive primary challenges, or in the face of an ongoing barrage of criticism, decide not to seek re-election.
Will this scorched-earth strategy help or hurt the conservative movement and the Republican Party? Apparently the people most affected by the answer, the politicians trolling for votes, believe it is the singular path to victory. Whether the general electorate agrees is, of course, an entirely different matter – and one for another day.
In the meantime, rest assured that Trump’s personal no-fly list of establishment Republicans will continue to lengthen as summer turns to fall. But for the ten House members in the Trump bullseye, it may be too late. They have already suffered sudden reversals of fortune. Most all of them glided to victory in 2020, but in refusing to go down with the mother ship, they are now faced with a most daunting prospect: convincing voters who overwhelmingly pulled the lever for Donald Trump that they’re not what Trump says they are.
Read more from Tim Donner.