AMAC Exclusive – By Seamus Brennan
Few American presidents in recent history have been as active in their post-presidencies as Donald J. Trump. In the months since he left office in January, Trump has already held six major campaign-style rallies that drew tens of thousands, announced plans to launch his own social media platform, published a photo book, and hinted at running for president again in 2024. But perhaps his most significant post-presidential contribution to American politics thus far has been his meticulous building out of a massive political machine that is actively steering the Republican Party in a more firmly populist direction that mirrors Trump’s “America First” governing vision.
Trump has already endorsed more than 70 candidates for Congress, governorships, and other state-level positions since his departure from the White House—a striking and unprecedented move for a former president. He has signaled he will endorse “good and SMART America First Republican Patriots” willing to run primary campaigns against so-called RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) who are insufficiently conservative, enable Democrat priorities, or stray from his own America First agenda.
The former president’s most high-profile post-presidential endorsement victory to date was cemented last month when Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia Governor’s Mansion in a state that had, just one year prior, voted in favor of President Joe Biden by more than 10 points, powered in large part by strong turnout from the Trump base. Looking ahead to 2022, Trump has supported both conservative incumbents—such as Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)—as well as new candidates, such as his former White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R-AR), in her run for governor, football legend Herschel Walker for the Georgia Senate seat, and self-branded populists like Joe Kent for a U.S. House seat in Washington state.
At the top of Trump’s list of RINOs to defeat are Republican officials who voted to impeach him in February or have otherwise broken with the party’s base. To replace them, Trump has endorsed candidates who he argues better fit the America First profile. “Saving America starts by saving the GOP from RINOs, sellouts, and known losers,” Trump wrote in a November statement. Among his more notable endorsements in challenging GOP incumbents is Harriet Hageman, who is running for Congress in Wyoming to unseat three-term incumbent Liz Cheney—an outspoken critic of the former president who was one of the few Republicans to vote in favor of Trump’s impeachment in February and has since repeatedly played into the hands of the media when it comes to criticizing her own party. Trump is also working to unseat officials like Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representatives Don Bacon (R-NE), Andrew Garbarino (R-NY), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), John Katko (R-NY), Nancy Mace (R-SC) and others—each of whom voted for impeachment and/or the infrastructure bill.
Trump’s grip on the Republican Party was further displayed earlier this week when Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R-MA), a longtime Trump critic, announced he would not seek reelection—despite the fact that he is among the nation’s most popular governors and enjoyed approval ratings in the 70s in deep blue Massachusetts. Baker has long betrayed conservatives in his own party—including on abortion, immigration, and crime—and following the 2016 election, regularly attacked the Trump administration and its policies. Baker’s announcement, which came several weeks after Trump’s endorsement of Republican primary challenger Geoff Diehl, is proof of the early success of Trump’s efforts to reshape the party. As the former president wrote in his endorsement of Diehl, Baker “has done nothing for the Republican Party and has driven Massachusetts energy costs into, by far, the highest in the Nation.” He continued: “Baker is definitely not an America First or Make America Great Again kind of guy.” Clearly, Baker himself agrees.
As Trump continues to roll out endorsements, hold rallies, and host fundraisers for his chosen candidates at Mar-a-Lago, there is little doubt among conservatives—or anyone, for that matter—that the Republican Party of yesteryear is gone for good. The results of Trump’s transformation speak for themselves: the conservative movement is more united than it has been in decades, and the majority of Americans are already eager for a return to Trump policies after 11 months of endless unmitigated disasters under Biden.
Regardless of whether Trump ultimately decides to seek the presidency in 2024, his direct and undisputed influence over the trajectory of the party cannot be understated. Thanks to him, the GOP has once again become the party that aggressively contests the left on cultural issues rather than surrendering, that protects American sovereignty and strength, and that fights for ordinary Middle Class Americans who are left behind by the Democrats’ radical social, economic, and cultural agenda.
Nearly one year after he left office, it is clearer than ever that Trump is going nowhere anytime soon.
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