While Speaker Mike Johnson has been on the Trump train for months, the leadership of the Senate Republican caucus has long been a source of resistance to some of the harder-right aspects of Trumpism and Donald Trump’s rhetoric which flirts with the kind of authoritarian yearnings often expressed outright by his supporters.
If any of that resistance remains, it’s not showing this week as Republicans react to a second victory by the former president in the primary contest; this time in New Hampshire, where he won an 11-point victory over Nikki Haley, his last remaining prominent challenger. Ms Haley did better than some polling expected, but still heads into a contest in Nevada and her home state of South Carolina after that without a single clear victory over Mr Trump or even Ron DeSantis, who has now dropped out.
With New Hampshire in the rearview mirror, Mr Trump’s last remaining foes within the Republican factions on Capitol Hill are joining the voices declaring the 2024 primary effectively over.
The clearest signal of that direction came from Mitch McConnell, who according to Punchbowl News referred to Mr Trump as “the nominee” during a closed-door meeting of Senate Republicans on Wednesday. His use of that descriptor comes as the former president is now reported to be urging Republicans in Congress to kill a deal being sought with Democrats on funding for border security, negotiations which Mr McConnell has supported.
Other allies of Mr McConnell, who has yet to formally endorse Mr Trump’s candidacy, have thrown their support overtly behind the man they once accused of fomenting the attack on the Capitol that led to death threats against many of their own members. Senator John Cornyn did this week, while Senator John Thune described Mr Trump as having a “commanding” lead in the primary in an interview with The Hill. He went on to say that he would support Mr Trump in the general election, while noting that “voters are breaking heavily” in his direction.
Across town, the Republican National Committee (RNC), captained by longtime Trump loyalist Ronna Romney McDaniel, is taking things a step further. On Thursday, it was reported that the RNC was considering a draft resolution to declare Donald Trump the “presumptive” nominee — with only a handful of delegates yet awarded out of the 1,215 a candidate needs to win.
As usual, Mr Trump’s loudest critics within the GOP are Republicans with nothing to lose; people like Mitt Romney, the retiring senator from Utah. He’s the only senator from his party who has openly pledged to vote for Joe Biden over Donald Trump should the two fight a rematch later this year.
Meanwhile, the former president’s meddling in congressional politics has once again stymied all action on Capitol Hill. Republicans now have their official marching orders to kill the immigration compromise their negotiators continue to game out, even as Joe Biden and the Democrats promise to bludgeon GOP members in moderate districts over their total unwillingness to work across the aisle. The odds of a deal that can pass the Senate emerging are higher than ever; resistance in the House is likely to rise in the wake of Mr Trump’s urgings as well. In a way, the dynamics of the 2024 Republican primary have given Mr Trump the political capital he needs to assert a kind of faux-incumbent president’s pressure on Washington from his estate and resort at Mar-a-Lago.
The wrench in the machinery imperils more than just progress on immigration and border security talks. A deal being struck addressing some of those issues was for weeks understood to be a prerequisite to passing further funding for Ukraine’s military defence against Russia as well as military aid for Israel.
The White House has been sounding the alarm for weeks over the former issue.
Officials including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan sat down congressional leaders last week and explained that Ukraine’s ability to effectively defend itself and counterattack against Russia would collapse over the next few months — possibly within “weeks” — if more aid was not approved by Congress.
Ms Haley is vowing to fight on; not just through South Carolina, where she is desperate for her first victory against Mr Trump, but beyond through Super Tuesday. Still, she heads into her home state with a mountain to climb in the polls and only a bit of momentum at her back. If she pulls off a victory next month against the frontrunner, it will be a reflection of how much better she and her campaign staff understand the state than do Mr Trump and his veterans. And she’ll have to do it against the expectations of her entire party.