Trump’s Stranglehold on the GOP Isn’t Loosening Anytime Soon

Some in the party are trying to distance themselves from the former president. He’s not going to let them.
Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on October 09, 2021 in Des Moines, Iowa. This is Trump's first rally in Iowa since the 2020 election. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on October 09, 2021 in Des Moines, Iowa. This is Trump's first rally in Iowa since the 2020 election. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump is pushing back on efforts from some leading Republicans to break his stranglehold on the direction of the GOP, saying on Sunday and Monday that his endorsement has allowed those Republicans to gain and remain in power—even though those same Republicans have been in power for years.

With just nine months to go until the 2022 midterms, the question of Trump’s influence in the party stands to derail the unified front the GOP is hoping to project against the Biden administration and congressional Democrats. 

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Top GOP figures including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have attempted to persuade frequent Trump targets like Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to run for Senate in recent months, in spite of Trump’s vow to oppose them, the New York Times reported Sunday

Sens. Susan Collins and Mitt Romney—both of whom voted to convict Trump in his impeachment trial last year—reportedly told Hogan that the Senate GOP needed more anti-Trump voices in the caucus. Hogan has since announced he wouldn’t run for Senate this year in his deeply Democratic state, but he said Sunday he was considering a bid for president in 2024. Ducey, who was reportedly encouraged to run by former President George W. Bush, has repeatedly said he has no plans to run for Senate

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“No one should be afraid of President Trump, period,” Collins, who didn’t endorse Trump’s 2020 reelection bid, told the Times

Trump struck back Sunday, saying, “My endorsement of candidates is much stronger today than it was even prior to the 2020 election scam” in spite of McConnell, whom he’s taken to calling “Old Crow.” 

“I am almost unblemished in the victory count, and it is considered by the real pollsters to be the strongest endorsement in U.S. political history,” Trump said. Trump-endorsed primary candidates won nearly every Republican primary in 2018 and 2020, according to FiveThirtyEight. “There are plenty of existing politicians who wouldn’t be in power now were it not for my Endorsement (like the Old Crow)!” 

Trump went on to denounce Collins in a Monday statement, arguing that he was integral to her win and saying he “allowed her to have a victory.” In 2020, Collins outperformed Trump in Maine by nearly 57,000 votes, despite fewer votes being cast in the Senate race.

“She would have lost in a landslide,” Trump said. “Gee, aren’t I nice?”

While Trump remains the face of the GOP, his singular grip on the GOP may be slipping even with voters. A CNN poll released Sunday found that Republicans were about evenly split on whether they wanted the party to nominate Trump for a third consecutive run for president. 

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And though Trump has focused much of his midterm energy on rooting out opposition within the GOP, all seven House Republicans who voted for his impeachment and are seeking reelection out-raised their primary opponents in the last three months of 2021, according to the Economist

Despite McConnell and others in the GOP establishment’s best efforts, though, many Republican candidates are still vying for Trump’s endorsement. McConnell attempted to recruit former Sen. David Perdue to run for Senate in Georgia this year, according to the Times, but Perdue ultimately received Trump’s endorsement against Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in the Republican primary

And in Ohio, a contentious GOP primary for Senate has turned into a brutal brawl partially over which candidate is most willing to pledge fealty to Trump. Bernie Moreno, a luxury car dealer from Cleveland who was polling poorly despite spending millions of his own money on the race, dropped out of the primary earlier this month after meeting with Trump.

“I am a businessman, not a politician. Business leaders recognize patterns before they happen,” Moreno said in a statement at the time. “After talking to President Trump, we both agreed this race has too many Trump candidates and could cost the MAGA movement a conservative seat.”

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