Resistance is futile. This week, an astonishing development became clear: You can be as conservative as it gets. You can even be a champion Donald Trump enabler. But if you don’t do what he says—when he says it—you’re done.
Consider the fate of Sen. James Lankford, a conservative Republican from Oklahoma, who helped negotiate a bipartisan border security deal; it ostensibly gave Republicans much of what they had long been demanding on the border (in exchange for procuring funding aid to Ukraine).
As punishment for doing his job, negotiating in good faith, and trying to solve a serious problem that Trump would prefer to linger, Lankford was swiftly betrayed by his Republican colleagues and condemned by the Oklahoma Republican Party. President Joe Biden, of all people, had the best description of what happened: “They really threw the man overboard.”
And while he was drowning, MAGA Republicans threw him a brick.
Right-wing pundits, for example, called on Lankford to resign and predicted he would lose his seat—a move that was foreshadowed by a warning he received even before the deal was even completed. “I had a popular commentator… that told me flat out, if you try to move a bill that solves the border crisis during this presidential year, I will do whatever I can to destroy you. Because I do not want you to solve this during the presidential election,” Lankford said on the floor of the U.S. Senate this week.
But it’s not just Trump’s minions who are coming for the senator. The Donald, himself, is suggesting that Lankford—whom Trump previously endorsed—may have to go through some things: “I think this is a very bad bill for his career, and especially in Oklahoma,” Trump said this week.
Being an independent-minded conservative today is almost tantamount to being a pro-chioice Republican in the 1990s; which is to say, they don't make ’em anymore.
Of course, Lankford isn’t the only Republican who is in the process of being thrown overboard by his own party. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who backed the border bill, is also in dutch with MAGA. According to The Daily Caller’s Henry Rodgers, top GOP senators are actively working to oust him from his post.
Once a power broker, McConnell has seen his influence within the Senate GOP conference wane as Trump’s has increased. But the quick defeat of the border bill seems to have surprised even some of McConnell’s MAGA rivals. “Usually, when Mitch McConnell stitches together a bill with disparate issues that he wants, he achieves his objective,” Rep. Matt Gaetz said (R-FL). “And for the first time we prevailed, so there’s a celebratory mood.”
McConnell’s decline in influence is bad news for those of us who adhere to traditional Reagan conservatism.
Then again, McConnell invited this fate in Jan. 2021, when—after condemning Trump for inciting the Capitol riot—McConnell voted to acquit.
He should have whipped GOP votes to convict Trump, but he was presumably afraid for his career. The irony is that his career is now pretty much over, and that— despite having accomplished his goal of reshaping the courts—McConnell will not ride off into the sunset as a hero of modern American conservatives. What is more, his imminent exodus portends an even Trumpier contingent in the U.S. Senate’s GOP caucus.
Perhaps most amazing is that Trump’s grip on the GOP has only tightened as the party has endured an “epic losing streak” during his time as party standard bearer.
You are what your record says you are. This truism is widely attributed to Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells. And since failure within the GOP cannot be tolerated, who will be the sacrificial lamb that will atone for these losses?
This brings us to the third example of a Republican who is about to be thrown overboard—one who seemingly has nothing to do with the hot-button issue of immigration. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel is expected to walk the plank (read: be pushed out of her post) this spring.
During McDaniel’s tenure, she bent over backwards to help Trump and support the party’s transition into a Trumpier organization. Heck, she even dropped her middle name “Romney” to appease Trump.
But as Politico has reported, “After a nearly two-hour meeting at Mar-a-Lago on Monday, Trump posted that McDaniel was a ‘friend’ but that he would be ‘making a decision the day after the South Carolina Primary’ on ‘RNC growth.’” (Note: One imagines that being Don’s friend is sort of like this.)
Trust me when I say that McDaniel, McConnell, and Lankford will not be replaced by someone who is less Trumpy. This, of course, is part of the plan for “institutionalizing Trumpism.”
Since coming down the escalator in 2015, Trump has taken over the GOP in fits and starts. An early phase involved surrounding himself, by necessity, with establishment types who tried to rein him in. The next phase involved using often those very same establishment types, who mostly enabled and empowered him.
We are now entering into a new phase: Trump will be surrounded (mostly) by true believers. Anyone who isn’t completely brought to heel will be purged.
But will Trump’s purer, if smaller, Republican party result in more electoral losses? And if so, will his grip over the GOP ever loosen?
Beatings will continue until morale improves—or until you get thrown overboard. The choice is yours.