Donald Trump has long manipulated the Republican Party to his will. But never has the extent of the former president’s dominance been more apparent than this week.
In a single 72-hour period, Trump led the effort to derail a painstakingly negotiated border-security pact in Congress, forced the Republican National Committee head to resign, and humiliated his last remaining presidential primary opponent in Nevada.
The gravity of Trump’s hand was felt across the country, as was the conspiratorial, “Stop the Steal” tone of the party rallying behind him.
On Thursday, the same day Trump won the Nevada caucuses arranged by a state party whose chair was charged for falsely claiming to be an elector for Trump in 2020, the Supreme Court looked to rule sharply in Trump’s favor in a lawsuit questioning his ability to run for president.
“He’s got a stronghold,” said Amy Tarkanian, the Nevada Republican Party’s former chair. “It affects not only the Republican base, but also the House. I don’t know how to describe it. The level of brainwashing that has occurred is just mind-boggling to me.
In Nevada, his allies pushed Republicans to vote for “none of these candidates” over Nikki Haley in Tuesday’s primary, resulting in a landslide defeat that, while entirely symbolic, was intended to disgrace her for even attempting to challenge him. Trump captured the state’s caucuses on Thursday, extending his march to the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee.
At Trump’s request, Senate Republicans reversed course and then blocked bipartisan border and foreign aid measures that had been rejected outright by GOP House leadership. Following the South Carolina primary on February 24, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel effectively resigned her resignation to Trump, who made it plain he wanted significant “changes” at the RNC. Mike Reed, the party’s chief of staff, is also slated to leave down later this month.
Trump aide Jason Miller told X that the former president suggested replacing McDaniel with North Carolina Republican chair Michael Whatley, who has echoed Trump’s bogus claims of widespread election fraud.
After McDaniel’s defenestration made headlines, MAGA members met in an X Spaces to celebrate her departure. Kari Lake, a prominent election denier and candidate seeking to remove independent Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who helped negotiate the border agreement, enthusiastically hailed GOP leadership changes. Others gave out names of preferred GOP candidates, including recently ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The week validated nearly everything people like Lake were advocating for.
“I’m coming,” she declared, selling her planned Arizona comeback as a service to Trump and his movement. “And I’m bringing my sledgehammer with me.”
The power moves by Trump and his allies served as a reminder of Trump’s dominance over the GOP. More importantly, they demonstrated how much the party’s election-denying side retains power — even after Republicans lost the White House in 2020, underperformed in the 2022 midterms, and suffered defeats in multiple special elections.
“I’ve never doubted his ability to win the nomination—his grip on the party is complete,” said Jeff Timmer, a senior consultant to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project and former Michigan Republican Party executive director.
Trump’s political offensive is only gathering traction. He leads Haley by a huge margin in her native state of South Carolina, and he now has a 17-point lead in Massachusetts, the March 5 Super Tuesday state that she is expected to win for the first time.
For all of Trump’s momentum, the week was not without warning flags about what his hold on the party could mean for the GOP’s chances in November. A scathing Washington appeals court decision clearly suggested that Trump’s immunity claims from criminal charges related from his attempt to destabilize the 2020 election would be denied.
Even the Supreme Court, which had previously been hostile to Trump’s election-denial attempts, appeared to rule in his favor on Thursday, when it heard a Colorado verdict declaring him ineligible to appear on the state’s ballot under the 14th Amendment. That same day, Trump received a political windfall when the special counsel investigating President Joe Biden’s handling of secret materials released his findings. While no criminal charges are merited, the study painted a negative picture of Biden’s mental acuity.
“At this point, it’s time for the party to just unite,” said South Carolina Republican state Sen. Josh Kimbrell, who flipped from supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to Trump after the Iowa caucus. “I believe what Governor Haley is doing is damaging to our chances of winning in November. There’s a lot of Republican versus Republican violence. It’s not helpful, and she won’t win her home state. Look, losing Nevada to ‘nobody,’ that’s really horrible.”
While the immunity and 14th Amendment issues are being resolved in court, as are the other Trump accusations in Georgia, New York, and Washington, Haley and Biden attempted to portray the week’s events as reasons to reject Trump. She suggested that Republicans cannot combat “Democrat chaos” with Trump-instigated GOP disarray, and that what made him unstoppable in the primary will be the party’s ruin in November.
Biden told Manhattan donors that Trump’s GOP control had made it hard to legislate, even on ostensibly Republican terms. Biden bemoaned that Republican members were “walking away because they’ve got Donald Trump calling and threatening them.”
“Despite all the myths the MAGAs have loved to write about his chess skills, he can’t play checkers. That’s what this immigration bill demonstrates,” Timmer added. “The Republicans have really overplayed their hand with this and given Biden and his stakeholder world an opportunity to really turn the tables on him.”
What remained of the pre-Trump GOP establishment was disintegrating even further, with Trump’s strongest enemies suffering their own defeats. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader who has supported the border negotiations between Republicans and Democrats at every stage, is now again under fire from his own members.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas joined six other hardliners in slamming McConnell over the border accord, calling for his resignation. It happened as House Republicans embarrassingly failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and pass a clean $17.6 billion Israel aid package.
Scott Reed, a longtime Republican strategist, described the events, especially the chaotic Tuesday and the subsequent humiliation, as “terrible” for the party.
“Ronna getting kicked out, the Senate meltdown — how you had the seventh senator come out and say there needs to be leadership change – the whole Mayorkas thing and Nikki Haley being the cherry on top, losing 2-to-1 to ‘none of the above,'” he went on to remark. “It’s devastating.”