Former President Donald J. Trump doesn’t need to form a new political party. He already has one, and he is trying to put the finishing touches on his takeover.
First published in March 2021.
Trump, through his lawyers, notified the various Republican election committees that they couldn’t raise money using his name or likeness. He wanted the donations to come to him directly to avoid it going to any RINOs (Republicans In Name Only).
He’s since walked that back a step or two. In drawing back, though, he gained from the Republican National Committee the agreement that he can veto the use of his name on different pleas of theirs for money.
He wants to control the political money raised, using his own political action committee (PAC) as the bank for the money. Doing so would accomplish a couple of things for Trump.
One, control of fund-raising (he who controls the money controls the party); two, the money goes into his own PAC, meaning he can spend it any way he chooses (warning Will Robinson!!); three, hamstrings the party because he then keeps the party (combined with his control the “base” votes of the party) from funding incumbents, some of whom Trump believes are disloyal to him. And he wants them gone. Is that good for the party’s long-term health?
In other words, Trump has not gone away nor did anyone expect him to truly enjoy his post-presidency in any traditional sense. After all, there are hides to skin.
Then again, this is the only way Trump would enjoy his post-presidency: maintaining power, stroking his ego, having party leaders make the pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to get his blessing. Plus, his businesses are in trouble and he likely will need to sell off various expensive properties. There are those pesky investigations going on into his finances. That PAC could come in extra handy. Lawyers to be paid. Loyalists to keep on the paryoll.
My question to the leaders of the GOP apparatus is: Is this the best path for the long-term strength of the party to elect Republicans?
He isn’t going away. He “controls” millions of votes that aren’t all truly Republican votes, but votes Republicans do need to try to retake the House and Senate in 2022.
Imagine elected officials who not only need to pretend they support Trump but who truly do support him. He wants the full fealty – not just the transactional loyalty he’s seen from some current (maybe most) members of the House and Senate.
Donald Trump “controls” millions of votes that aren’t all truly Republican votes.
Don’t get me wrong. He is using the system to maintain control, which is his right. Will the party let him win? So far, yes.
And/but the party’s job is to elect Republicans. And in many states and congressional districts you won’t win general elections with Trump loyalists. They can win a primary, sure, and likely will. But will those candidates play well in a general election?
Platforms don’t mean a lot but they are important to whatever message a party wants to convey to voters. Trump vetoed the idea of any platform in 2020. That made the message: Donald Trump.
To reach beyond its base doesn’t call for the cult the GOP is becoming. It requires policies that appeal to voters.
A more normal approach for a post-presidency, would be to help the party take over the House and Senate – not hamstring it by running primaries against their incumbents who have proven they can win. But once again, this is Donald J. Trump we are talking about and “normal” doesn’t apply. Could his approach to politics be the wave of the future? Banking on his charisma to win elections all over the country?
In a way, you might compare him to The Royals at the moment. The “institution” or “the firm” is trying to survive while Harry and Megan point fingers at its control, deep state and racism. Harry and Megan are fighting up stream, though possibly taking a step that will eventually show up as a major moment in the monarchy’s history.
The same with Trump. Can his message of grievance and “only I can solve it” actually have staying power in American politics? Can having no platform be the wave of the future?
At the moment, it looks like it could work in the short term because of Trump. Post-Trump, though, what happens to the party? How many steps will they have lost? Is there another Trump (not by relation but in cult-like force) in the wings?
▫ B. Jay Cooper, former deputy White House press secretary to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
- B. Jay Cooper is the author of Mac Baldrige: The Cowboy in Ronald Reagan's Cabinet | The Lyons Press
[This piece was originally published in The Screaming Moderate and re-published in PMP Magazine on 12 March 2021, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Flickr/Gage Skidmore. - Donald Trump. | 23 February 2018. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)