Trump, Mo Brooks and the Republican Confirmation Game

That said, Trump has sometimes shown a pretty good ability to jump to the front of the parade — supporting the candidate who is otherwise most likely to win, and then doing the honors when it happens. That’s pretty much what he did in Texas, where he supported incumbents and balked at elections that were harder to obstruct. There’s nothing wrong with that; Convincing other Republicans that his support is valuable by using it selectively is a pretty standard political move.

Unfortunately for the former president, some of his decisions aren’t working so well in the upcoming primary.

He responded to the dismal polling in Alabama for his-backed Senate nominee, US Rep. Mo Brooks, by withdrawing his endorsement and offering the implausible excuse that Brooks was not loyal enough to support Trump’s obsession with smashing the 2020 election . Brooks retaliated with Trump by producing accusatory headlines about this obsession, but that’s neither here nor there within the Republican Party. If Trump could alienate the party by proving that his word is not reliable, or that he does not understand the basic rules of the US political system, or that he is willing to change the law whenever it suits him , then he would have long since abandoned it. The question is whether Trump can maintain the illusion that his approval is essential by postponing it as the polls change. If not, one of his most important sources of influence within the party will disappear.

That’s not Trump’s only strength. There are many Republican voters who really like him. Still, perceptions of his popularity may dwindle as his reputation for providing valuable endorsements dissipates.

Trump’s greatest leverage over the rest of the party is focused on the general election, not the primaries. Republicans are wary of opposing Trump because he is perfectly capable of urging his supporters to stay home or back third-party (or maybe even Democratic) candidates if he gets angry enough with Republicans. Few political leaders have had the ability to blackmail their own parties as most of them have strong ties to parties and platforms. Trump, a Republican outsider until his 2016 presidential bid, has much weaker connections.

Trump has benefited from the implicit threat of blackmail when party leaders who strongly dislike him have remained loyal to him or remained silent during the 2016 and 2020 campaigns. But no one believes Trump would remain loyal to the party going forward, and with the electorate so evenly divided, it would only take a small portion of Republican voters for Trump to stand by his side against the rest of the party to increase his chances in most cases ruining national elections.

Regardless of what happens in the upcoming primary, Republicans are probably not done with Trump, even if they want to be. Still, he will have more influence if he can convince party actors that his support is important. Which brings me back to my starting point: it certainly looks like Trump isn’t moving primary voters, and his efforts to hide that are patently silly, but will Republican party stakeholders agree? I have no idea.

For weekend reading, here are some of this week’s best articles by political scientists:

• Natalie Jackson on public opinion and the pandemic.

• Robert Farley on the origins of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

• Jen Schradie at Monkey Cage on Ukraine and social media.

• Matt Grossmann talks to Erica Frantz about Russian President Vladimir Putin and authoritarianism.

• Dan Drezner on US intelligence.

• Jennie Sweet-Cushman on Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and women running for office.

• Alan I. Abramowitz on Latino voters and the Democratic Party.

• And a great article by Matt Glassman on congressional hearings.

This column does not necessarily represent the opinion of the editors or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and politics. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and at DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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