The Trump effect

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Even as an increasingly thick cloud of investigations swirls around him, Donald Trump continues to exert a remarkably strong influence on the Republican Party. His reach is national and his impact is being felt at almost every level of government. Most of the candidates he has endorsed have won their Republican primary contests. According to NBC news, of the 204 candidates Trump has backed since his own election defeat in 2020, a whopping 188 have won, 14 have lost, and two dropped out or were disqualified before Election Day. That’s an impressive win rate of more than 92%.

Many of the Trump-backed victors in Republican primaries are part of the chorus who claim Trump was robbed of victory in the 2020 presidential election because of fraud. That includes Republican gubernatorial nominees Dan Cox in Maryland and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania. And in Arizona, 12 Trump-endorsed candidates made a clean sweep in the primary, including gubernatorial candidate and prominent election-denier Kari Lake.

But Trump’s most decisive primary win was in Wyoming, where Republicans overwhelmingly repudiated Rep. Liz Cheney, who received less than 30% of the Republican vote — an unheard of in-party rejection of an incumbent office holder. Cheney, who voted for Trump’s impeachment after the Jan. 6 insurrection, and who serves as vice chair of the House investigation into the insurrection, has been the face of Republican rejection of Trump. And though her actions were resoundingly rejected, she remains unbowed, as she promises to “do whatever it takes to ensure that Donald Trump is never again anywhere near the Oval Office, and I mean it.”

Trump exerts his influence in the same manner as he defends against mounting accusations of impropriety: openly, aggressively, provocatively, and pointedly. He continues a now-familiar shredding of the conventional playbook with what appears — to his detractors, at least — to be a total lack of self-awareness, humility or introspection.

Neither the recurring criticisms nor the mounting investigations seem to affect Trump’s influence. Indeed, Trump’s base is more riled up than ever, and the Republican Party has obediently followed. How else does one explain Trump’s success in turning Liz Cheney, an ultraconservative who voted with Trump 93% of the time during his presidency, into a folk hero for liberals?

And now Cheney is exploring a presidential run in 2024. She says her goal is to keep Trump out of the White House. But where does an accomplished and conservative, pro-gun, pro-small government, pro-defense spending and anti-abortion politician call home if she is rejected by Donald Trump’s Republican Party?

There is a lot at stake in the coming November elections. And a lot will happen between now and then. But if Trump and his provocative narrative continue to dominate press coverage and political discussion around the country, there is no telling just how much of an impact this one man may have on our electoral process.

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