Republican critics give in or give up as party bends towards Trump

Already, in high-profile campaigns this year - the governor races in Virginia and New Jersey and a special Senate race in Alabama - Republican candidates are mirroring Mr Donald Trump's racially tinged campaign tactics.
Already, in high-profile campaigns this year - the governor races in Virginia and New Jersey and a special Senate race in Alabama - Republican candidates are mirroring Mr Donald Trump's racially tinged campaign tactics.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

GOP risks turning into Party of Trump as members who do not support him quit

WASHINGTON • Despite the fervour of United States President Donald Trump's Republican opponents, the President's brand of hard-edge nationalism, with its gut-level cultural appeals and hard lines on trade and immigration, is taking root within his adopted party, and those uneasy with grievance politics are either giving in or giving up the fight.

In some cases, the retirement of an anti-Trump Republican could actually improve the Republican Party's chance of retaining a seat. Senator Jeff Flake's decision on Tuesday to not seek re-election was greeted with quiet sighs of relief in a party anguished by his plunging approval ratings.

But such short-term advantages mask a larger, even existential threat to traditional Republicans. The Grand Old Party (GOP) risks a longer-term transformation into the Party of Trump.

"There is zero appetite for the 'Never Trump' movement in the Republican Party of today," said Mr Andy Surabian, an adviser to Great America Alliance, the super political action committee (PAC) that is aiding primary races against Republican incumbents. "This party is now defined by President Trump and his movement."

Yesterday, Mr Joe Straus, the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, announced that he would not run again, an indication that the Washington fever was spreading. His dash for the exits followed the retirement announcements of several other members of the Republican establishment.

GRASSROOTS LOYALTY

We have a leader who has a personality disorder, but he's done what he actually told the people he was going to do, and they're not going to abandon him.

FORMER SENATOR TOM COBURN

Many of those who remain will have to accommodate the President to survive primaries from the pro-Trump right. Already, in the high-profile campaigns this year - governor races in Virginia and New Jersey and a special Senate race in Alabama - Republican candidates are mirroring Mr Trump's racially tinged campaign tactics.

And Republican officials are putting up with the sort of incendiary candidacy that a party more devoted to nurturing a tolerant image might have rejected.

The reason? Many of their voters prefer the Trump way.

"This thing they've got today doesn't work, it doesn't move with urgency," said Mr Trump's former chief strategist, Mr Stephen Bannon, who is now orchestrating an effort to defeat Republicans deemed insufficiently loyal to the President's agenda. "It's very nice. But it's a theoretical exercise. It can't win national elections."

Even some of the President's detractors on the right believe that the party base will stick with him because they like his agenda. "We have a leader who has a personality disorder," said former senator Tom Coburn, "but he's done what he actually told the people he was going to do, and they're not going to abandon him."

This grassroots loyalty is why no prominent Republicans on the ballot next year have broken with Mr Trump - only lame-duck lawmakers and Republicans out of office, such as former president George W. Bush, have been harshly critical of him.

For now, though, the vision for a more populist-nationalist party sketched out by Mr Bannon is being won as much through intimidation as through actual purges in Republican primaries.

What Mr Bannon is trying to do, and what Mr Flake's retirement could further, is strike fear in the hearts of Republicans who do not display enough enthusiasm for the nationalism that Trump ran on.

"This should be a warning shot to any other 'Never Trumper' in the Senate today: Your time is up," Mr Surabian said.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2017, with the headline 'Republican critics give in or give up as party bends towards Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe