Analysis: Trump struggles to keep control of his own MAGA movement

But even Republicans who admit he lost the 2020 election don’t see his legacy as tarnished. And as the dominant figure in the GOP, he’s turning what looks increasingly like a likely House Republican majority next year into a political weapon by setting himself up as a puppeteer for the party’s House leader, Kevin. McCarthy of California. On Thursday, the House Minority Leader was subpoenaed along with four other GOP lawmakers by the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The new MAGA candidates

The ex-president backed the winners in high-profile tests of his approval power in the Ohio Senate race and the first incumbent vs. incumbent clash of the year, even though his nominee failed in the primary of the Governor of Nebraska.

But these early congressional primaries and the rumblings of the 2024 presidential campaign are also raising a body of younger, radical candidates who are claiming the MAGA credo themselves, even without Trump’s endorsement, and raising questions about whether the movement invented by Trump begins to escape his control.

This is particularly the case in Pennsylvania, where GOP Senate candidate Kathy Barnette has emerged as a major threat to Trump-backed Mehmet Oz and another top contender, former hedge fund manager David McCormick. , who transformed from a conventional Republican establishment into a riotous sidekick of Trump, even without the ex-president’s endorsement.
And in Florida, GOP Governor Ron DeSantis took Trump’s tactics to the next level by embracing a MAGA-like agenda. While Trump’s rally speeches center on his grievances over the 2020 election, DeSantis has used the unbridled power of the governor’s office to pillory the “woke” left and the press. He targeted LGBTQ rights under the guise of “parental rights”. And he has built a national following and a massive war chest by taking on liberals who he says seek to erase America’s cultural heritage and traditional values.

Meanwhile, some of Trump’s hand-picked candidates — like JD Vance, the GOP’s new nominee for the Ohio Senate — have been able to articulate the populist and nationalist goals of the MAGA movement more succinctly than the former President.

At a Trump rally in Pennsylvania for Oz last week, for example, Vance drew an enthusiastic response from the crowd by describing the movement as a struggle between “the people” and establishment Republicans, who he says , ship American jobs overseas and start “stupid wars we don’t have to fight.” Vance, once a harsh Trump critic who used his endorsement to get the GOP nod, called the midterms “a war for the soul of the Republican Party.”

And as Barnette, a conservative commentator, touted her far-right credentials, she bluntly declared that “MAGA does not belong to President Trump”, hinting at the future of the movement beyond the former president. .
How Trump's Endorsement of Oz Gave Kathy Barnette an Unexpected Opening in Pennsylvania

“Although he coined the word, MAGA actually belongs to the people,” she said during a recent debate. “Our values ​​have never, ever changed to President Trump’s values. It was President Trump who changed and aligned with our values.”

Republican agents in Keystone State are scrambling to arrest Barnette, believing she has been untested and unverified – after a series of past inflammatory statements – and could give up a seat to Democrats in the fall who could determine which party controls the US Senate. Trump, who hates being upstaged, doesn’t appreciate Barnette’s push, which could hurt his kingmaker status if he triumphs over Oz in Pennsylvania’s Senate primaries on Tuesday.

“Kathy Barnette can never win the general election against hard-left Democrats,” Trump said in a statement Thursday. “She has a lot in her past that hasn’t been properly explained or verified,” he said — a comment that seemed a bit rich considering the sizable skeletons in the closet he overcame to become President.

But, characteristically, Trump left herself a possible way out and avenue to reclaim her success if she wins, saying that if Barnette can clear up questions about her past, “she’ll have a wonderful future in the Republican Party — and I I’ll be behind her all the way.”

Yet Trump ended his statement by reaffirming his support for Oz, whose fame and TV stardom appear to have been a big part of endorsing a candidate who Republican purists say is not a real one. conservative.

“Dr. Oz is the only one who can easily defeat the crazed, moody Democrat in Pennsylvania. A vote for anyone else in the primary is a vote against victory in the fall!” Trump wrote.

Trump can’t just order his supporters what to do

While the former president’s endorsement has been widely credited for pulling Vance out of the pack in Ohio, the idea that he’s just barking orders and his supporters jumping is a caricature.

In Georgia, for example, Trump is wildly popular among Republicans, but his efforts to replace GOP Gov. Brian Kemp — who refused to sign up to his election-stealing agenda — with a hand-picked candidate in the ex-Sen. David Perdue seems to be turning against him.

“People love Trump, but Kemp is going to win,” Josh Brown, 39, from Rockmart, Georgia, said Thursday. Another voter, Jim Mayer, 65, of Rome, added: “Trump’s endorsement means a lot, but I’ve been following Kemp for a long time.”

Audrey Burch, 55, also from Rome, is undecided between Kemp and Perdue. She blames Kemp for not doing more to address Trump’s concerns about the 2020 election, but she lamented not seeing Perdue campaign.

“I hope he’s not planning to win just because he’s associating with Trump,” she said.

Biden sees an opening

The rise of MAGA candidates who are in some cases more extreme than Trump is raising the stakes for Democrats who may end up opposing them.

Some voters who crammed into a bar in York City in southeastern Pennsylvania on Thursday to see Democratic Senate frontrunner Lt. Gov. John Fetterman are watching the GOP primaries with concern.

But York resident Angela Stever predicted a radical Republican candidate from MAGA would lead Democrats to the polls.

“They’re loud, they make a lot of noise, but we come out when it counts. Democrats always come out when it counts,” she said.

And after months of Democrats struggling to come up with a message, Biden recently took offense to portraying midterms as a choice between his agenda and what he now calls “ultra-MAGA” Republicans. .

Did Rick Scott just deliver a *real* message to Democrats?

He also warned of the potential human costs of Florida Sen. Rick Scott’s 11-point plan, which would force all Americans to pay some form of income tax and could create an opening for Social Security cuts. and Medicare by canceling programs every five years. .

Although Scott’s plan was rejected by many Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Biden accused the GOP of “not wanting to solve inflation by cutting costs; they want to solve it by raising taxes and reducing your income”.

But there is no guarantee that campaigning fiercely against Trump will mitigate expected Democratic losses when Trump is not on the ticket.

Last November, Biden, former President Barack Obama and Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe tried to turn that state’s gubernatorial race into a referendum on Trump. But Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin won a narrow victory in a state Biden had won by 10 points the previous year by addressing parents’ concerns about education.

This kind of model may not work everywhere since Youngkin, whose brand image played well in the moderate suburbs of Washington, DC, was able to keep the ex-president at bay. But it shows the risk Biden is taking by going anti-MAGA so soon.

The strategy behind Biden's new language on Republicans

And the headwinds against Biden and the Democrats are so strong this year that it’s possible the MAGA candidates will be promoted to power on a red wave. Such a scenario could transform the Senate GOP conference as older, more established Republicans retire and younger, more extreme senators riding on the anti-elite uprising sparked by Trump replace them.

This dynamic has surfaced before in the House, where McCarthy has long struggled to keep MAGA firebrands like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of Florida in line, as they have repeatedly distracted from the ability of the GOP to get a message across.

But with Trump so heavily involved in picking winners and losers, the entire primary season will deliver a verdict not only on the power of man, but also on the power of movement and whether he controls the forces that he released.

If there are signs of weakness, increasingly prominent figures like DeSantis circle around, ready to step in and carry the MAGA flag at any moment.

Simone Pathé contributed to this report.

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