Trump Isn’t Just Winning The GOP Primary. He’s Consolidating Absolute Power

INSIDE: Ron DeSantis ... E. Jean Carroll ... Mike Johnson
ROCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE - JANUARY 21: Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump takes the stage during a campaign rally at the Rochester Opera House on January 21, 2024 in Rochester, New Ha... ROCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE - JANUARY 21: Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump takes the stage during a campaign rally at the Rochester Opera House on January 21, 2024 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Trump is campaigning ahead of New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation state primary on Tuesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo. Sign up for the email version.

Trump Clears The GOP Field

With Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) bowing out and endorsing Donald Trump, the 45th president has all but cleared the GOP field before the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary is even held.

The only other candidate still standing, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), couldn’t even win the endorsement of home state Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and her only shot of surviving much past tomorrow is the unlikeliest of outcomes: an outright win in New Hampshire.

After tomorrow comes South Carolina, where Haley trails Trump badly in the polls and where a loss would be so damaging to her political reputation that it might be worth avoiding altogether by dropping out first.

The tired tropes of campaign reporting had already become stale and dated before this cycle, but they’re utterly useless in capturing what is really happening here. Trump is consolidating power within the Republican Party in a way that is unparalleled in U.S. political history.

Trump has the kind of firm grip on the party’s base voters that typically instills respect, even fear, in other elected officials. I would argue it’s to a greater degree than usual, but we can plausibly argue that this dynamic is somewhat familiar, if not normal.

What isn’t normal is the way in which he uses his political popularity to threaten reprisals against his foes inside the party. This didn’t really happen to the same degree in the 2016 cycle because he hadn’t fully consolidated his power until after his surprise win, and in the 2020 cycle, there was no real GOP opposition (with a few notable exceptions) to the re-election of its incumbent president so this dynamic didn’t manifest itself as glaringly as it does now.

But it’s more than defeating Republican elected who opposed him by, for example, voting to impeach him. Through a combination of personal threats, promises to abuse the powers of his office if re-elected, and using his rhetoric to unleash elements of the unhinged MAGA mob, Trump isn’t just flexing his popularity, but using it to intimidate, cow, and eliminate internal GOP opposition.

The indignities visited upon his foes, their willingness to endorse him after he attacks their families, the reluctance to attack him directly are all manifestations of Republican office-seekers operating under not just political but personal threat, not just jeopardizing one’s political career but one’s personal safety and the well-being of loved ones.

Two small anecdotes from last week that capture the Trump dynamic. Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) represents a deeply conservative southwest Virginia district. Trump country through and through. But Good has been a DeSantis supporter, and as Josh Marshall noted, that prompted this screed from Trump campaign manager Chris LaCivita, “Bob Good won’t be electable when we get done with him.” This was true even though Good promised to endorse Trump if and when DeSantis lost. (Good was true to word, hastily issuing his Trump endorsement minutes after DeSantis dropped out yesterday.)

Contrast the Good treatment, with this anecdote from the alternate universe of normal American politics. When former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) ended his long-shot, never-had-a-chance presidential campaign last week, the Democratic National Committee sent out a snarky statement about it. It was a little tone deaf and needlessly brutal, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. Still, the Biden White House kicked into overdrive to denounce the DNC over the lack of graciousness, going so far as to have chief of staff Jeff Zients call and personally apologize to Hutchinson.

The contrast between the politics of Trump and Biden is not new news! But the contrast in this instance is striking and highlights yet again that what Trump offers to so many of his supporters is the thrill of threatened violence, the frisson of wiping away one’s opponents, the chance for vicarious transgressiveness. It’s a dangerous cocktail of swagger and situational violence.

It’s understandable to take some pleasure in watching Trump destroy the Republican Party. But don’t lose sight of the fact that he wants to do to America what he’s doing to the GOP.

One Last Awkward Smile For The Road

The fact that Ron DeSantis used a fake Churchill quote as he bowed out is just gravy:

The Headlines, Y’all

Miami Herald: “DeSantis Backs Down”

NYT: “Implosion Complete, DeSantis Falls in Line Behind Trump”

Michelle Cottle: “Ron DeSantis Made Smiling Look Hard”

Proud Moment

I thought TPM had cornered the market of the use of the word “feral,” so imagine my surprise, delight, and slight defensiveness when I see this Politico headline: “Trump’s feral close to the New Hampshire primary.”

2024 Ephemera

  • WaPo/Monmouth poll of New Hampshire GOP primary (conducted before Ron DeSantis suspended his campaign): Trump, 52%; Haley, 34%; DeSantis, 8%.
  • NYT: Trump Says He Will Retire ‘DeSanctimonious’ After DeSantis Endorses Him
  • Under federal court order to do so, the Louisiana Legislature has redrawn its congressional district map with a second majority-Black district, giving Democrats a likely pickup opportunity.

Carroll Is Still Whacking Trump Like A Piñata

The second trial of E. Jean Carroll’s defamation claims continues today, with the specter of whether Trump himself will testify looming over the proceedings (I’d be quite surprised if he did). But more importantly, Carroll told the judge over the weekend that she will be introducing new evidence of Trump continuing to defame her while the trial is underway.

Trump Miscellany

  • Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows is appealing the court ruling that postponed any decision on whether Donald Trump can be removed from the ballot under the Disqualification Clause until after the Supreme Court rules in the Colorado case.
  • Bank records filed in the divorce case of Georgia special prosecutor Nathan Wade show he paid for trips with Atlanta District Attorney Fani Willis to San Francisco, Miami and Aruba.
  • The DC Circuit Court of Appeals still hasn’t yet issued its ruling in Trump’s presidential immunity case. Look for that decision to be issued at any time. Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking on the trial date for Trump’s Jan. 6 trial, and Trump keeps suggesting darkly what he will do with immunity in a second presidency:

The Cynicism Runs Deeper Than The Rio Grande

As Ukraine and Israel aid, cobbled together with tough-on-immigrant border proposals, take center stage this week on the Hill, a good reminder from Obama White House aide Dan Pfeiffer:

Some commentary suggests that Johnson keeps moving the goalpost to prevent his caucus from having to vote on Ukraine aid, which is vehemently opposed by MAGA Republicans but enthusiastically supported by the Republican establishment and more moderate GOPers. With Johnson in perpetual danger of being McCarthy-ed, I am sure avoiding a tough vote is a factor. However, I think Johnson and the Republicans have another more nefarious reason — they want a crisis at the border to help them in the election.

Mike Johnson Is On The Clock

Politico: “A growing number of House Republicans are increasingly frustrated with Johnson’s leadership and whispering about whether he can hang on to his role after 2024 — if he even makes it that far.”

Is Dobbs Today’s Version Of The Kansas-Nebraska Act?

On the anniversary of Roe, Heather Cox Richardson on how opposition to abortion became a mainstay of the Republican Party platform (ed. note: back when it had a platform).

‘It’s Nice To Have a Strongman Running Your Country’

Good Lord, what more warning signs do you need:

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Notable Replies

  1. As usual Chump is exploiting the fact that Justice has to remain, for the most part, silent.
    While he is free to go to every corner of the country and online to smear, smear, incite, smear, threaten, smear

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