He gave the answer in his first public address since leaving office, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a sort of Woodstock for conservative true-believers. “We’re not starting new parties,” Mr. Trump said, “That was fake news, fake news.”
The Republican party, he said, is “going to unite and be stronger than ever before.” Now that Mr. Trump has directed his supporters to stay with the Republican party, will the he supply the gravitational force needed to pull the GOP together and lead it toward electoral and policy victories?
His first task will be to establish party discipline. Too often, Republican leaders have personally benefitted from Mr. Trump’s leadership, only to betray him in times of need.
Too often, Republican leaders have personally benefitted from Mr. Trump’s leadership, only to betray him in times of need.
Take, for example, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Mr. McConnell won a hotly contested Senate race, benefiting from Mr. Trump’s support. Mr. Trump’s endorsement drove pro-McConnell turnout, helping the Kentucky senator gain a decisive margin of more than one million votes over his Democrat challenger for the first time.
Notably, Mr. Trump won Kentucky by a greater margin than Mr. McConnell’s margin over his own challenger, removing any doubt over who supplied the coattails in the Kentucky race.
But despite that support, and despite Mr. McConnell’s history of cooperation with the president — together they confirmed more than 200 federal judges — Mr. McConnell publicly blamed the president for the infamous Capitol riot of January 6.
Previously, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao resigned her cabinet post in the Trump administration in response to the January 6 riot. “I had planned on serving through the end of your term in office,” she said, “but after yesterday’s events at the U.S. Capitol, I will resign.”
Mr. Trump minced no words in his CPAC speech. “Now more than ever is the time for tough strong and energetic Republican leaders who have spines of steel.” Elected Republicans must either align with his America-first agenda or get out of the way.
“Now more than ever is the time for tough strong and energetic Republican leaders who have spines of steel.” –President Trump
Those in Congress who supported the second impeachment effort have a choice to make: support the GOP’s leader and the party platform, or concede their true colors and join the Democrat caucus or otherwise leave the GOP.
Mr. Trump’s second task requires ensuring ballot integrity at the state electoral level. Illegal votes dilute the power of the people.
The Republican National Committee launched a voter integrity program, but the real action must happen at the community level. Republicans control more state legislatures than Democrats, and they must prioritize removing the emergency powers and last-minute changes that courts were unwilling to challenge.
Justice Clarence Thomas rightly chastised the Supreme Court for failing to hear the Pennsylvania case to reign in standard-free, make-it-up-as-you-go-along mail-in balloting, midstream rule-changes, and judicial disengagement.
Meanwhile, the Democrats wage their own frontal assault on the voting system, with a new bill to federalize elections and ensure that Washington, D.C. elites will continue to entrench and consolidate their power.
The elites’ drive to do that is something that Mr. Trump’s loyalists understand. They view his unsuccessful efforts to drain the swamp, and to staff his own administration with reliable hands, as major disappointments. But they understand the power of the swamp and its creatures.
Recent events have showcased the true team players. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and South Dakota Governor Kristie Noem have become standout stars in the conservative firmament, both placing in CPAC’s straw poll and showing promise as future cabinet members.
How will squishy Republican office holders handle a future Trump candidacy? Mr. McConnell would “absolutely” support Mr. Trump if he became the Republican nominee in 2024, but my Magic 8-Ball offers less confidence in support from the GOP establishment: “Reply hazy, try again.”
Mr. Trump should pursue three goals:
Party loyalty or bust.
And reliable, steady conservatives for key positions in a second administration.
With these, Mr. Trump can take a page from Bob Dylan and promise American voters that he will make them feel his love. “I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue / I’d go crawling down the avenue / No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do / To make you feel my love.”
After leaving the Oval Office in January, Mr. Trump has acquired some of the humility and wisdom that only defeats can deliver. Other defeated GOP candidates never won (Mitt Romney and John McCain) and other one-term Republican presidents never returned from defeat (George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford). Unlike any of these, Mr. Trump energizes his supporters, and they eagerly want to see him run again in 2024.
Democrats took sadistic pleasure in making Mr. Trump the first president to be impeached twice, but he may yet have the last laugh. And that will happen, if Mr. Trump becomes the first president successfully reelected after his impeachment.