Trump’s victory in New Hampshire solidifies his conquest of the GOP

Republicans’ decision to acquit Donald Trump created the runway for his flight toward the Republican nomination in New Hampshire tonight, writes Eric Garcia

Wednesday 24 January 2024 01:53 GMT
(Getty Images)

In the days after the attack on the US Capitol, former president Donald Trump seemed on the verge of becoming a politician in exile.

Many Republicans directly blamed him, including Kevin McCarthy, who said “the president bears responsibility” for the attack. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell excoriated Mr Trump by saying that “people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president”.

Mr Trump’s decision to spread the lie that Democrats stole the election from him to whip his supporters into such a frenzy that they breached the US Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election offered Republicans — particularly ones who never particularly liked Mr Trump — the opportunity to get off the wagon. It gave them the chance to remove the virus of Trumpism, tell their voters it would not be allowed in the party, and keep the focus on weakening Joe Biden.

But the ex-president’s dominant win in the New Hampshire primary on 23 January, a week after a decisive win in Iowa, makes crystal clear what has been obvious all along – Donald Trump is going to be the 2024 Republican nominee. Despite more than 90 felony charges in four separate jurisdictions, Mr Trump retains an iron grip on the Republican Party. New Hampshire was Nikki Haley’s best shot at taking on Mr Trump, but the results were decisive and the Associated Press called the race for Mr Trump shortly after polls closed at 8pm.

Furthermore, Mr Trump has purged many of his critics from within the GOP. House Republicans booted Liz Cheney, who refused to remain silent about Mr Trump, in exchange for the formerly moderate Rep Elise Stefanik to be the chairwoman of the party conference.

Similarly, three of the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Mr Trump have left the upper chamber, with a fourth, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, heading for the exits at the end of the year. Even after the riot that threatened his life, former vice president Mike Pence’s presidential ambitions collapsed under the weight of his committing the cardinal sin of not overturning the 2020 election results on January 6.

By failing to expel Mr Trump from the Republican body politic, the GOP essentially allowed him to become a cult of personality for the base. Indeed, Mr Trump has said: “for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”

And many do see the world through the shade of the red Maga hat. A large majority of Republicans incorrectly believe Mr Biden’s election to be illegitimate. About two-thirds of Iowa caucusgoers believed Mr Biden did not legitimately win the presidential election. Nearly half of New Hampshire primary voters said the same.

Mr Trump made denying the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election as much a core tenet of being a Republican as low taxes for the wealthy and opposing abortion.

As a result, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, Mr Trump’s only opponent still in the race on Tuesday evening, needed to rely on non-affiliated voters in the state to even put up a semblance of a fight, especially since she has denounced the January 6 riot.

Not only has Mr Trump’s conquest of the GOP been wholesale, but Republicans have gone from reluctantly supporting him despite his actions to adamantly defending him because of them.

Where former speaker Paul Ryan would occasionally have to say “I haven’t seen the tweet,” Ms Stefanik, in her audition to become Mr Trump’s running mate, told NBC News’s Vaughn Hillyard that E Jean Carroll’s lawsuit for defaming Mr Trump after a court found her liable for sexually assaulting her was an example of “witch hunts.” Where Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina said that Mr Trump’s “moral authority is compromised” after the then-president’s remarks after Charlottesville, Mr Scott now vocally stumps for the former president as he angles to become Mr Trump’s vice president.

Most Republicans who decided against voting to hold Mr Trump accountable did so because they feared the Republican base and not enough of an incentive existed for them to impeach or convict him. They also likely hoped he would go away. Instead, it’s allowed him to grow stronger than ever.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in