Why Republicans are (still) humiliating themselves for Trump
Even Nikki Haley will eventually have to kiss the ring.
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With close to 90 percent of the vote counted early Wednesday morning evening, Donald Trump had beaten Nikki Haley by just over 10 points in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary.
For Haley, that margin is a victory of sorts, since she was further behind in polls and finished a weak third in Iowa. But a moral victory isn’t enough. Haley insisted in her election night speech that she would stay in the race, but with Trump already racking up delegates and the primary now shifting to states where he has an even bigger advantage, the ultimate outcome isn’t really in doubt.
This isn’t news — Trump has long had a commanding lead in the polls. But even with Haley still in the race, prominent Republicans are rushing to anoint him and remove all doubt about who leads the party.
Primary rivals entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott— the last actually appointed by Haley — all endorsed Trump. So did Kevin Roberts, the president of the Heritage Foundation, a think tank which had been one of the big conservative institutions backing DeSantis. Texas Sen. John Cornyn immediately endorsed Trump following his New Hampshire victory.
“I have seen enough,” Cornyn tweeted, hopping on the MAGA bandwagon before it becomes too late to get credit for it. Even Republican National Committee (NRC) Chair Ronna McDaniel went on Fox News late Tuesday and all but endorsed Trump by urging Haley to get out of the race.
Trump’s consolidation of Republican support isn’t exactly a surprise. But it’s a chilling reaffirmation that the GOP is his party, and stands for what he stands for — authoritarianism, cruelty, election denial, corruption, criminality, conspiracy theories, and mob-style threats like the one Trump made against Haley during his unhinged New Hampshire victory speech.
Republican voters have little interest in any other vision; GOP pols either knuckle under, or stop being GOP pols. For Republicans, Trump is the only choice. Which means that the choice for the rest of the country is stark.
Abase yourself for Trump
Since Trump’s ascent in 2015, Republican rivals and critics have repeatedly been forced to come crawling back to him on their bellies, begging forgiveness and humiliating themselves.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump suggested that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s wife was ugly and (utterly without evidence of any kind) accused Cruz’s father of being involved in JFK’s assassination. Cruz said then that Trump was a “bully” and “pathological liar.” Yet, this year he “enthusiastically” endorsed Trump.
Even Haley, who has sharpened her rhetoric against Trump in recent weeks as he’s crudely insulted her and hit her with birther smears, has indicated she’ll support Trump if he’s the Republican nominee.
Democrats tend to view these ritual exercises in self-abasement as personal failures of character. And they are. Ted Cruz is a repulsive sycophant who puts his Senate career above defending his family.
But when an entire political movement removes its spine and starts oozing about the floor like a giant jellyfish, the issue isn’t just individual cowardice and mendacity. GOP politicians abase themselves not for the fun of it, but because their voters, their colleagues, and the entire partisan infrastructure of the party is telling them to abase themselves.
The one true conservative
Analyst Michael Tesler at Good Authority points out that for conservatives, Trump now defines their movement.
In 2016, when Trump lost the Iowa caucuses, only 24 percent of somewhat conservative voters, and only 21 percent of very conservative voters, cast ballots for him. In 2024, by contrast, he won 45 percent of somewhat conservative voters and 60 percent of very conservative ones. The only group Trump did worse with in 2024 was moderate voters; in 2016 he won 34 percent; in 2024 only 18 percent. The decline in Trump’s moderate support may end up hurting him in a general election, and it helped boost Haley in New Hampshire, where she won independents handily. But being seen as the embodiment of conservatism is, ultimately, an overwhelming advantage in a GOP primary.
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Trump in 2016 was seen as an unreliable candidate with few ties to movement conservatism; to cite just one example, in 1999 he’d said he was “very pro choice.” But over time, Trump has come to define conservatism for most in the party. Political scientists Dan Hopkins and Hans Noel found in a 2021 survey that GOP voters see anyone opposing Trump — like former Sen. Pat Toomey — as less conservative, no matter how far to the right their policy preferences.
“What seems to matter more is not so much one’s voting record in the pre-Trump era as one’s relationship to Trump,” they concluded. Or, in the words of Heritage President Kevin Roberts, “the future of conservative policies will be in how effectively we implement Trumpian conservatism.”
Of course, “Trumpian conservatism,” as distinct from just normal conservatism, at this point mostly means defending Trump from criminal liability and refusing to believe he’s ever lost an election. Trump does embrace party orthodoxy on tax cuts and abortion, but so do DeSantis and Cruz and Toomey.
Trump isn’t the lodestar of conservatism because of his policy positions. He dominates his rivals and is the unquestioned party leader because he’s made his own grievances and scandals and orangeness central to the GOP’s id.
If you stop supporting Trump, you’re no longer a Republican
That means that GOP partisans have a choice — they can support Trump, or they can effectively cease being Republicans.
“Not only do we support President Trump, we support his policies,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene said on Monday. “And any Republican that isn't willing to adapt … we are completely eradicating from the party.”
Republican voters have made it clear over and over again that they will not vote for GOP politicians who oppose Trump. Trump skeptics like former Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee retired rather than face a Trumpy electorate. Former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who became a leading Trump critic following Trump’s January 6 coup attempt, was crushed in her Wyoming primary.
There are a couple exceptions that test the rule; Sen. Mitt Romney and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have both opposed Trump and managed to hang onto office and power. But McConnell has had to mute his criticism of Trump (even as Trump targeted McConnell’s wife for racist insults) while Romney is following Flake and Corker into retirement.
The lesson is clear; anyone who wants a future in Republican politics needs to kiss Trump’s ring. That’s why Trump’s primary opponents mostly avoided criticizing him; they know that for GOP voters, people who criticize Trump aren’t real conservatives or real Republicans. It’s why even supposedly moderate Republicans like New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu promise to support Trump in the general election — even though he attempted a coup, even though a jury has held him liable for rape, even though Sununu himself has argued that Trump “can’t keep a cogent thought” and that he’s a “coward.”
Sununu needs Republican voters to win reelection; he needs Republican voters if he’s going to ever seek another office. And Republican voters see Trump as their guy. If you don’t support him, they won’t support you.
That logic is ugly, but it’s straightforward, and every Republican politician understands it. That’s why Trump’s opponents are rushing to endorse him and show they’re on the right side. It’s not because they love Trump; it’s because they know that loving Trump is a prerequisite for any future career in Republican politics. Tim Scott went as far on Tuesday evening as to tell Trump on stage, “I just love you.” Haley, too, despite her relatively strong showing in New Hampshire, is almost certainly going to drop out before too long and endorse the guy who has been calling her “bird brain” and mocking her Punjabi first name.
Partisan incentives are powerful, and Trump has commandeered them on his own behalf. Now and for the foreseeable future, the GOP is Trump’s to do with as he will. Which means that no matter what horrible things Trump does to the country and the Constitution, Republicans won’t stop him. On the contrary, they’re eager to help him shred both.
That’s it for today
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