OPINION: Remaking the GOP in Trump’s image is not a winning strategy
Today’s Republican Party belongs decidedly to former President Donald Trump — and like the soviet politburo, those who run the party aren’t about to tolerate any dissension in the ranks.
Even before Nevadans gather for an ill-advised GOP caucus or cast a meaningless primary ballot two days earlier, we know what the ultimate outcome is going to be. As Gov. Joe Lombardo put it in a recent interview with The Nevada Independent, for “all practical purposes … the race is over.”
Indeed, the national party drafted a now-withdrawn resolution to declare Trump the party’s presumptive nominee long before we bother with the mundane task of actually letting voters go to the polls in other states. If Nevada didn’t matter before, it certainly won’t matter in a couple more weeks.
While Nikki Haley could, ostensibly, generate some headlines by squeaking out a win over “none of the above” on the primary ballot — where Trump is not listed and no delegates will be at stake — it’s still not going to mean much in the end. As it turns out, Trump loyalists have an ironclad hold on the party, and it’s bearing fruit for their preferred candidate before primary elections even really get going.
Having the nomination all but secured for Trump, one might imagine those Republicans would soon pivot in an effort to woo the ever-growing swath of independent and moderate voters needed to actually win a general election.
There’s no indication, however, that such a pivot is imminent.
Instead, the Trumpian leaders of the GOP have decided to zealously purge nonbelievers, heretics and anti-Trump blasphemers from the party. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), for example, has bragged about “completely eradicating” those in the party who refuse to get on board with the “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) agenda. Following his victory in New Hampshire, Trump even insisted that donors to his only remaining major challenger, Haley, be blacklisted and “permanently barred from the MAGA camp.”
Such contempt for Republicans who fail to toe the MAGA party line isn’t new — it’s long been a core component of Trumpism. When she was still running for governor of Arizona, for example, firebrand candidate Kari Lake told (late Sen. John) McCain Republicans to “get the hell out” of her rally. Here in Nevada, a number of Republicans were officially chastised by local party leaders for not supporting die-hard MAGA candidates in the last election.
In other words, many of the Trump loyalists running the party are seemingly uninterested in building a coalition of ideologically diverse center-right voters and politicians. Instead, they’re obsessed with turning the party into a homogenous movement that dogmatically shows fealty to its dear leader.
Such an approach to party politics is more reminiscent of a dictatorial regime than it is of a competitive American political movement. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time until party bosses decide to do away with secret ballots so they can start identifying the rank-and-file voters who happen to be engaged in “wrongthink.”
Such soviet tactics within the party have certainly been effective for preserving Trump’s dominance in the primary process, but it’s not going to bode well as we shift gears into the general election. After all, electoral politics is supposed to be a game of addition — adding to one’s base of support for the sake of winning majorities throughout the 50 states.
How the GOP intends to win by doing the opposite is a bit puzzling.
Those Haley donors, McCain holdovers, nonpopulist Trump critics and moderate Republicans are among the large number of voters needed to actually win in November — and much of the GOP is actively working to “eradicate” them from the party?
Judging by previous election cycles, however, “winning” might not actually be as important to many within the MAGA movement as merely remaking the party in the image of Trump.
Despite his 2016 prediction that Republicans would soon grow tired of winning, the era of Trump has been an unmitigated disaster for the party. Even in years when political victories should have been “gimmes,” Republicans found themselves struggling for electoral gains.
Those struggles haven’t gone away. As MSNBC's Steve Kornacki pointed out, the results from New Hampshire’s recent primary exposed a dramatic gap between the preferences of independents and those of die-hard Republican voters. Those findings indicate the problem may even be getting worse. Recent polls have shown similar gaps, indicating a shrinking tent for Trump’s Republican Party — which isn’t exactly good news as the general election looms.
Far from focusing on ways to win over the support of skeptics, the MAGA leaders within the GOP seem hell-bent on the politics of subtraction — ridding the party of those who refuse to enthusiastically rally for a man who hocks comic-book style digital “trading cards” of himself. (Yes, he’s really doing that.)
Unless Democrats happen to subtract voters from their ranks in greater numbers — which could still happen — the politics of subtraction won’t end well for Republicans. If the party’s message in coming months is “get on the Trump train or get lost,” it should prepare itself for plenty of voters to do the latter.
Of course, none of this is likely to matter much to the true believers and self-fashioned Cheka agents of Trump’s new Republican Party. The puritanical purging of Republican apostates from the party’s ranks is seemingly the only thing that matters among Trump’s most ardent loyalists. To them, remaking the party in his image is the only real victory worth pursuing — electoral results be damned.
Michael Schaus is a communications and branding expert based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and founder of Schaus Creative LLC — an agency dedicated to helping organizations, businesses and activists tell their story and motivate change. He has more than a decade of experience in public affairs commentary, having worked as a news director, columnist, political humorist, and most recently as the director of communications for a public policy think tank. Follow him at SchausCreative.com or on Twitter at @schausmichael.