It’s official now. The Republican Party is now the party of Trump. And the little platoon of stubborn holdouts known as Never Trump? Their ambition has been crushed.
Over the years, American political parties have come to be defined by personalities. The Democrat Party was once defined by Franklin Roosevelt and Jack Kennedy (and, more recently, Barack Obama). The Republican Party dubbed itself the party of Reagan, and the party of Lincoln.
Last night’s primary elections redefined the GOP into a party defined solely by its current president: Donald Trump.
Republican candidates now live or die based off of their support for the President. Those who endorse Trump’s “America First” approach to governing are usually rewarded with electoral victory. Those who don’t, aren’t.
The best demonstration of this was Rep. Mark Sanford, a South Carolina congressman and ardent Trump critic in Congress, who lost his primary bid to a more Trump-aligned Republican. Just hours before the polls close, President Trump made the call to voters: vote Sanford out!
Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA. He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina. I fully endorse Katie Arrington for Congress in SC, a state I love. She is tough on crime and will continue our fight to lower taxes. VOTE Katie!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 12, 2018
Voters responded by sending Sanford packing, giving the GOP nod to Katie Arrington, who will likely win in November. (RELATED: Katie Arrington Defeats Mark Sanford In GOP Primary Hours After Trump Endorsement).
That wasn’t the only Trump-guided result in the Palmetto State. Governor Henry McMaster, an early backer of Trump’s during the long 2016 election, didn’t outright win his primary fight, but he didn’t lose either and will face a run-off election with John Warren.
Elsewhere, Trump’s control over the party and its voters were more apparent. In Virginia, a once-red state that has turned a light shade of blue thanks to the expanding presence of the federal government in the northern part of the state, nominated the pro-Trump Senate candidate Corey Stewart. Trump himself congratulated Stewart on his big win over an establishment-backed candidate:
Congratulations to Corey Stewart for his great victory for Senator from Virginia. Now he runs against a total stiff, Tim Kaine, who is weak on crime and borders, and wants to raise your taxes through the roof. Don’t underestimate Corey, a major chance of winning!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018
But that’s not all. In North Dakota, Rep. Kevin Cramer won the Senate nomination to take on Democrat incumbent Heidi Heitkamp in the fall. Trump personally encouraged Cramer to run.
In Nevada, incumbent Senator Dean Heller survived a primary challenger from upstart candidate Danny Tarkanian after Trump urged Tarkanian to drop out of the race. Tarkanian, in return, received the nod from Trump to run for a House seat where he beat 9 other GOP candidates.
Even in Maine, a state not known for its strong Republican streak, small businessman Shawn Moody clinched the Republican nomination to be governor after running on a Trump-esque outsider platform.
When you add it all up, it’s undeniable that Trump has slowly dragged the Republican Party in his direction. Candidates can now expect any criticism of Trump to be a liability in future campaigns. Even the New York Times is convinced that Trump has redefined the GOP. In recounting Mark Sanford’s loss, reporters Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin wrote:
Representative Mark Sanford carried the sort of conservative credentials that once were all but certain to inoculate a Republican against a primary challenger. He was a member of the House class of 1994, won an insurgent bid for governor in 2002 and earned acclaim on the right for being such an unswerving fiscal hawk he once brought squealing pigs into the state capitol to make a point about pork-barrel spending. Then he returned to Congress and became a member of the hard-right Freedom Caucus.
But none of that matters much in the era of Trump.
Just as Republican candidates frequently cited themselves as heirs of Ronald Reagan, look for up-and-coming GOPers to call themselves devotees of Trump.
Trump has molded the Republican Party in his image. Those who adopt follow along will be left behind, as soon-to-be ex-Rep. Sanford learned last night.
Rest in peace, Never Trump.