Jul 31, 2018 - Politics & Policy

Trump's primary power and contagion

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

President Trump's power over politics and the Republican Party is growing, with more GOP candidates adopting his tactics and relying on his seal of approval to win.

The big picture: For a party defined for a lifetime by cutting taxes and regulation, numerous GOP candidates are instead choosing to run ads on Trump topics like crime, gangs and illegal immigration.

  • Entire races — and states — are defined by Trump. In Georgia, Brian Kemp, a Trump clone who rants about fake media, immigrants and crime, crushed the establishment-backed Republican to win the GOP primary. Now, the Peach State will choose between Stacey Abrams, a liberal African American woman, and a conservative white man.
  • Trump-backed candidates have won nine of the last 10 contested races, including all primary races. National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar calls it a “golden touch,” magically turning long-shot hardliners into instant favorites.

The latest example of the Trump effect is in the GOP race for Florida governor:

  • Only last month, Adam Putnam — "Florida's agriculture commissioner and a genial conservative tabbed for political stardom since he won a state house seat at 22 — was ahead of Representative Ron DeSantis in fund-raising, local endorsements and opinion polls," the N.Y. Times' Jonathan Martin reports. "But then Mr. Trump bestowed his formal blessing on Mr. DeSantis for the Aug. 28 primary."
  • Now a Mason-Dixon poll has DeSantis 12 points ahead, a month before the primary.
  • YouTube of new DeSantis ad, which got a ton of play yesterday.

A source close to the president told me: "Trump loves nothing more than raw, power politics. He knows he's got unprecedented juice with the Republican base, so he's flexing his muscle, and having a blast doing it."

How Trump does it:

  • His sway often flows from fear: Fear that he will tweet against you and turn you into a soon-t0-be ex-congressman, like he did with Mark Sanford in South Carolina. Or fear his base will retaliate, unprompted. 
  • He has a powerful hold on his supporters' minds. A CBS News Battleground Tracker poll, conducted by YouGov and released Sunday, asked who you trust for accurate information. Among strong Trump supporters, the stunning result: Trump: 91% ... Friends & Family 63% ... Mainstream Media 11%.
  • He has redefined the social issues that animate the Republican base from religious-rooted moral issues (abortion, gay marriage and "family values") to cultural issues rooted in class and race (immigration, crime and trade).
  • He plucks candidates from relative obscurity and instantly turns them into household names in their districts or states — with a tweet, a rally or an endorsement. Because of his supporters' fervor, in a state like Alabama, he can quickly change opinions that were formed by voters over years, even decades.

Quote du jour ... David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report tells me:

  • "If you're a Trump-skeptical Republican, you have 3 options if you speak your mind publicly: 1) Retire. 2) Be forced into retirement in your next primary. 3) Become a CNN/MSNBC commentator."

Be smart: Trump-style politics might very well outlive this presidency, making him the most consequential GOP president since Ronald Reagan.

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