With or without former President Donald Trump, it’s becoming the MAGA midterms.
He’s still the face of the red-hatted “Make America Great Again” brigades sixteen months after leaving office, but brilliant messengers running in this year’s midterm elections have been more adept in explaining that brand and where it’s heading.
Trump now faces a new challenge: not only will he be able to propel his endorsed primary candidates to victory, but also will he be able to maintain control of the movement he started, as some of the candidates he scorned are claiming the MAGA label anyway, and as his supporters reject his preferred candidates.
As he attempts to establish his authority ahead of a future White House run in 2024, the former President is spreading primary endorsements like April petals. Regardless matter who the former President supports, rival Republican contenders are arguing about who actually embodies the “America First” banner. And, harried by soaring inflation and daily gas price records, President Joe Biden is attempting to turn the election into a referendum on the democracy-threatening radicalism of “MAGA king” Trump.
The fight to define the MAGA movement’s next phase reflects the enormous role the 45th President plays in American politics, which is all the more remarkable given that the twice-impeached former commander in chief lost after a single term and left office in disgrace after attempting to stage a coup.
Even Republicans who acknowledge that he lost the 2020 election consider his legacy as unblemished. And, as the GOP’s most powerful person, he’s positioning himself as a puppet master for the party’s top leader in the chamber, Kevin McCarthy of California, to turn what appears to be a potential Republican House majority next year into a political weapon. The House select committee probing the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol summoned the House minority leader and four other GOP legislators on Thursday.
MAGA’s new candidates
Even though his candidate lost in the Nebraska governor primary, the ex-President supported victors in high-profile tests of his endorsement strength in the Ohio Senate race and the first incumbent against. incumbent House showdown of the year.
However, early congressional races and rumblings of a presidential campaign in 2024 are elevating a cadre of younger, radical candidates who are claiming the MAGA creed without Trump’s backing, raising the issue of whether Trump’s movement is beginning to run out of his control.
This is especially true in Pennsylvania, where GOP Senate candidate Kathy Barnette has emerged as a major threat to Trump-backed Mehmet Oz and another top candidate, former hedge fund executive David McCormick, who has transformed himself from a traditional establishment Republican into a rabble-rousing acolyte of Trump despite not receiving Trump’s endorsement.
In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken Trump’s methods a step further by establishing a MAGA-style agenda. While Trump’s rally speeches focus on his concerns about the 2020 election, DeSantis has used the governor’s office’s unrestricted power to attack the “woke” left and the media. Under the cover of “parental rights,” he has targeted LGBTQ rights. And by taking on liberals who, he claims, are attempting to obliterate America’s cultural history and traditional values, he has amassed a nationwide following and a sizable war chest.
Meanwhile, some of Trump’s selected candidates, such as Ohio’s freshly minted GOP Senate hopeful J.D. Vance, have been able to articulate the MAGA movement’s populist and nationalist ideals more eloquently than the former President.
Last week, for example, at a Trump event in Pennsylvania for Oz, Vance got a standing ovation when he framed the movement as a battle between “the people” and establishment Republicans, who he said would send American jobs overseas and conduct “dumb wars that we have no business waging.” The midterm elections, according to Vance, are a “battle for the soul of the Republican Party.” He was previously a fierce opponent of Trump who leveraged his backing to gain the GOP nomination.
And, while Barnette, a conservative broadcaster, has bragged about her far-right credentials, she has also stated flatly that “MAGA does not belong to President Trump,” implying that the movement’s future is not limited to the former President.
“MAGA genuinely belongs to the people,” she declared during a recent discussion, despite the fact that he originated the term. “Our principles have never, ever altered to those of President Trump. President Trump was the one who transformed and aligned himself with our ideals.”
Republicans in Pennsylvania are trying to block Barnette, claiming she is untested and unvetted — following a string of provocative prior utterances — and might gift a seat to Democrats in the fall election, which could determine which party controls the US Senate. Trump, who despises being overshadowed, isn’t pleased with Barnette’s rise, which might jeopardize his kingmaker role if she defeats Oz in the Pennsylvania Senate primary on Tuesday.
“Kathy Barnette will never be able to defeat the Radical Left Democrats in the General Election,” Trump declared in a statement released on Thursday. “She has many things in her history that have not been adequately explained or vetted,” he added, a statement that seemed overly kind given the skeletons in his closet that he overcame to become President.
But, in typical Trump fashion, he gave himself a way out and a chance to profit off her success if she wins, stating that if Barnette can clear up her background, “she will have a fantastic career in the Republican Party—and I will be behind her all the way.”
Despite this, Trump closed his remarks by reiterating his support for Oz, whose celebrity and television popularity appear to have played a major role in his endorsement of a candidate Republican purists contend is not a real conservative.
“Dr. Oz is the only candidate in Pennsylvania who can easily defeat the crazed, lunatic Democrat. Any vote in the Primary for anyone else is a vote against Victory in the Fall!” Trump wrote something.
Trump cannot just tell his fans what they must do
While the former President’s endorsement is largely credited with propelling Vance to the top of the Ohio polls, the notion that he just screams instructions and his supporters follow is a farce.
In Georgia, for example, Trump is popular among Republicans, but his attempt to replace GOP Gov. Brian Kemp with ex-Sen. David Perdue, who refused to sign on to Trump’s election-rigging plot, looks to be backfiring.
On Thursday, Josh Brown, a 39-year-old from Rockmart, Georgia, said, “People adore Trump, but Kemp will win.” “The Trump support means a lot, but I’ve followed Kemp for a long time,” said Jim Mayer, 65, of Rome.
Audrey Burch, a 55-year-old Rome resident, is undecided between Kemp and Perdue. She criticizes Kemp for not doing more to address Trump’s worries about the 2020 race, but she expresses disappointment that Perdue has yet to campaign.
“I hope he doesn’t think he’ll win solely by aligning himself with Trump,” she remarked.
Biden sees an opportunity
The surge of MAGA candidates, some of whom are more radical than Trump, raises the stakes for Democrats who may wind up fighting them.
Some of the people who flocked to a pub in York, Pennsylvania, on Thursday to see Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the front-runner for the Democratic Senate nomination, are concerned about the GOP primary.
However, York resident Angela Stever anticipated that an extreme Republican nominee, such as Donald Trump, would drive Democrats to the polls.
“They are noisy and make a lot of noise, but when it matters, we come out. When it counts, Democrats always show up “she remarked.
After months of Democrats struggling to establish a theme, Biden has suddenly gone on the offensive, portraying the midterm elections as a choice between his vision and what he now refers to as “ultra-MAGA” Republicans.
He’s also expressed concern about the human consequences of Florida Senator Rick Scott’s 11-point plan, which would compel all Americans to pay some sort of income tax and potentially open the door to changes to Social Security and Medicare by sunsetting the programs every five years.
Despite the fact that many Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have opposed Scott’s plan, Biden said that the GOP “does not want to fight inflation by cutting expenses; they want to handle it by raising taxes and lowering your income.”
However, conducting a ferocious anti-Trump campaign would not ensure that Democratic losses will be mitigated when Trump is not on the ballot.
Biden, former President Barack Obama, and Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe attempted to make the state’s governor election into a referendum on Trump in November. But, by addressing parents’ worries about education, Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin narrowly won a state that Biden had carried by ten points the year before.
Youngkin, whose business image played well in the moderate Washington, DC suburbs, was able to keep the ex-President at arm’s length, but that model may not work everywhere. But it demonstrates the danger Biden is taking by going all anti-MAGA so soon.
And with the enormous opposition to Biden and the Democrats this year, MAGA candidates may be swept into power by a red tsunami. As older, more establishment Republicans leave and are replaced by younger, more extremist senators riding the anti-elite wave sparked by Trump, the Senate GOP conference might be transformed.
McCarthy has long fought to keep MAGA firebrands like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz in line, as they have regularly diverted from the GOP’s ability to push a message.
However, since Trump is so invested in picking winners and losers, the primary season will provide a judgement not just on Trump’s strength, but also on the movement’s power and whether he can manage the forces he unleashed.
If there are any signs of weakness, DeSantis and other important personalities are lurking, ready to swoop in and fly the MAGA banner at any time.