Two rising stars show they know how to win power in Trump’s GOP


The only non-negotiable value of the modern Republican Party is this: the ruthless pursuit of power. Party leaders who recognize this thrive, while those who put principles before political progress are swept away.

The latest rising Republican star to learn that lesson is Glenn Youngkin.

A year ago, pundits praised the Virginia governor for finding a way to win a blue state while keeping ex-President Donald Trump at bay and for creating a Republican campaign plan that didn’t rely on more overt vote denial was based. But on Wednesday, Youngkin had an arm around Kari Lake, the new GOP sensation and Ultra-MAGA nominee in the Arizona governor’s race. The candidate refused in a CNN interview on Sunday to commit to recognizing the result of her race if she doesn’t win and fights hard as a loyal member of the ex-president’s opposition movement.

“You’re awesome,” Youngkin told his new friend at a vigorous rally in Tucson that showcased two possible post-Trump faces of the GOP.

“The winning team is the winning team — elections have consequences,” Youngkin said, urging all Republican voters to get behind Lake but also summarizing the ideological choice he must make for a future in the party.

The Virginia governor, raising his national profile in midterm races, touted his own credentials by suggesting that every red wave last November in his state had its “headwaters” that President Joe Biden did just the year before won by 10 points. And by appearing with candidates like Lake, whose extreme pro-Trump credentials are more obvious than his own, he demonstrated an awareness of the reality of how successful careers are built in today’s GOP.

The party’s single-minded drive for power is nothing new. It has been the defining feature of the last two decades of Washington politics, a period that culminated in a bargaining chip with a president who did not appear to share the moral codes of social and religious conservatives but gave them a generational majority on the Supreme Court.

After two years out of power, the Republican Party’s willingness to return to the top of Congress is palpable and was the main motivating factor in its medium-term campaign strategy ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

Apparently there is nothing wrong with a political party single-mindedly focusing on gaining power. Politics is the art of the possible. And successful parties and leaders understand that electoral victories matter. Democratic presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Bill Clinton have been known for doing what had to be done to win and reformulating their own principles when necessary. Johnson, a former Senate Majority Leader, was particularly ruthless in exercising his authority won at the ballot box. And more recently, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not dominated the House for nearly two decades without a determination to use her power.

But the Republican Party’s adoption of their most basic instincts is particularly remarkable, and perhaps questionable given the reality of the time. More often than not, GOP leaders enable and support a twice-impeached ex-president with clearly autocratic leanings who has incited an insurgency to try to overthrow a democratic election. Or they uplift Trump supporters who have built their careers on his picture or on his untruths about the 2020 election.

This is a remarkable leap for a party that once prided itself on its heritage of promoting global democracy against tyranny. Republicans who defended values ​​once upheld in the Lincoln party against Trump — including Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake — were ostracized. Flake did not run for re-election, and Cheney, the vice chair of the House selection committee investigating Jan. 6, 2021, lost her primary to a Trump-backed challenger this summer. Meanwhile, extremists who are spreading conspiracy theories and questioning the election, such as Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, are superstars in the party because the Trump base loves them.

The most striking recent example of the naked pursuit of power was seen when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy rushed to Mar-a-Lago to reconcile with Trump shortly after he criticized him for the Capitol riot. California lawmakers knew that his party’s hopes for a majority in the House of Representatives and his own dreams of becoming Speaker depended on a rapprochement with Trump and his grassroots constituents.

An understanding of the path to power — through Trump over the past six years — explains why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, despite his personal disdain for Trump, lived with the ex-president’s wrongdoing and chaos. Most notably, the Kentucky Republican declined to vote to try Trump in a second impeachment trial over the insurgency, which could have rendered the former president’s return to power impossible.

McConnell weathered the mad outbursts of Trump’s tenure, resenting his picking of questionable midterm candidates and his meddling in key races, which has complicated the party’s mission to gain control of the Senate, even in places that are in a national Environment should have been a slam dunk favors the GOP.

And McConnell has shrugged off Trump’s insults and racist social media posts directed at his wife, former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. He did more than remain silent. The Senate Leadership Fund, the super-PAC affiliated with the minority leader, has poured tens of millions of dollars into key races — including in states like Ohio and Georgia — to save backfired candidates effectively crowned as party nominees by none other than Trump became .

McConnell’s affiliated super-PAC even poses in New Hampshire, where the GOP nominee has said he would not vote for the Kentucky Republican for leader. But it’s another way to bolster a possible GOP majority.

McConnell knows the rewards of learning to live with a party leader like Trump, who is his polar opposite in personality and behavior. Last time, McConnell rode the Trump wave and completed the epoch-making quest for an unassailable right-wing majority on the Supreme Court. When Republicans take over the Senate, he will be able to change his life’s work, the composition of the judiciary. He’s also closing in on Mike Mansfield as the longest-serving Senate party leader of all time, despite Trump’s increasingly vocal attempts to unseat him from his leadership post.

McConnell parried such moves by simply telling CNN’s Manu Raju in an interview last week, “I have the votes.”

The impulse to seize control of Congress at all costs — even if it seems to compromise the values ​​the GOP espouses — was evident when several U.S. senators flew to Georgia earlier this month to address the controversy-stricken state save Senate candidate Hershel Walker.

The pro-Trump candidate has faced allegations that he paid for a woman to have an abortion, despite saying during the election campaign that he would support a national ban on the procedure without exception. Walker has denied the allegations, which CNN has not independently confirmed, but the uproar has highlighted the risky nature of a candidacy that likely would not have happened were it not for his friendship with Trump.

Walker’s two deputies — Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who heads the GOP’s Senate campaign arm, and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton — behaved as if Walker were just any other Republican candidate.

“Herschel Walker will be a Senate leader,” Cotton said, “just as he was a sports and business leader for the state of Georgia.”

Walker’s credentials aren’t the most important thing to Cotton, Scott, and McConnell. But he may represent the 51st Republican vote in the Senate if he can win the race — and with it, a return to power for the GOP. So it was never an idea that he would leave.

Youngkin’s decision to run with Lake is overlaid with similar political calculations.

When Youngkin won the Virginia governor’s mansion last year, he employed a subtle campaign strategy. By discussing how schools are handling gender issues and citing “electoral integrity,” the former businessman sent enough “Make America Great Again” messages to ensure turnout in rural pro-Trump districts. But he was also careful not to alienate voters in the more liberal Washington, DC suburbs, where parents frustrated by Covid-19 lockdowns have warmed to his education message.

He’s doing much the same thing now — appearing with Trump nominees like Lake and Michigan GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon, but also stumbling with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who fended off Trump’s efforts to oust him earlier this year.

Because Virginia governors cannot serve back-to-back terms, Youngkin is relieved of the need to hold his coalition together for re-election. And given how far and wide he battles with candidates of diverse ideological persuasions, he appears to have plans to become a national GOP figure and knows that any future presidential nomination may depend on his ability to appeal beyond Virginia Republicans .

So while his support for Lake could be valuable in a tight gubernatorial race, her rising star power in the Trump world also provided a powerful incentive for his journey. And it explains the hug after his speech, in which he hugged the kind of political figure who wouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near his events last year.

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