The fact that so many well-known right-wing Republicans endorsed Joe Biden during the United States’ 2020 presidential race —from former Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona to former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina to Sen. John McCain’s widow Cindy McCain — speaks volumes about how dramatically former President Donald Trump remade the GOP in his image, and how alienated they fell from the party. The GOP landscape is radically different from what it was during the Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama years, and journalists Jonathan Swan and Lachlan Markay describe that landscape in an article published by Axios on February 4.
“Paths to power and winning elections inside the GOP are changing rapidly and radically, spawning a new generation of kingmakers while diminishing the clout of many who lorded over the party for years,” Swan and Markay explain. “Why it matters: 14 of the Republican Party’s top consultants and operatives across the country spoke in detail with Axios about how profoundly primary races have changed since 2014 — the last pre-Donald Trump midterm election and the last midterms in which a Democrat occupied the White House.”
The reporters continue, “What we found: Those sources — whose clients range from as Trumpy as they come to establishment Republicans — described a clear shift in the party’s power brokers. They spoke of changes to the ecosystem across four categories: institutional upheaval, endorsements, conservative media and donors.”
Swan and Markay go on to list Republicans who “had the power” in the past — a group that includes the National Review, the National Rifle Association, the Drudge Report, Heritage Action and the “Koch network,” among others.
But their “who has the power now” list is much more MAGA. That list includes Trump and his “family and former aides” as well as Breitbart News, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Ben Shapiro’s the Daily Wire, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and the Susan B. Anthony List.
Swan and Markay also mention “online influencers, including Candace Owens, Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino, Joe Rogan, Jack Posobiec, Charlie Kirk and Marjorie Taylor-Greene.”
“Most of these changes weren’t gradual,” the Axios journalists note. “They were triggered by the shockwave of 2016. Much of the institutional GOP worked against Trump in 2016. Much of the heft they believed their endorsements carried evaporated as voters saw in real-time how Trump had little need for them and ultimately obliterated them.”
A Republican consultant, interviewed on condition of anonymity, told Axios, “You wouldn’t know that these groups were paper tigers — unless you ever ran against one of them.”
In 2020, Never Trump conservatives hoped that if Trump were voted out of office, the Republican Party would return to a pre-MAGA brand of conservatism. But a year into Joe Biden’s presidency, that obviously isn’t going to happen.
“Many movement conservative brands are shadows of what they used to be,” Swan and Markay emphasize. “Many of the major conservative think tanks supported policy positions — such as reforming Social Security or free trade — that Trump obliterated and proved elderly GOP voters didn’t actually support.”
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