RENO, Nevada — Donald Trump long ago bent the Republican Party to his will. But seldom has the sheer sweep of the former president’s dominance been laid bare more clearly than this week.
In one 72-hour span, Trump led the charge to crush a painstakingly negotiated border-security deal in Congress, pushed the Republican National Committee chair to the exits and, in Nevada, embarrassed his last remaining rival in the presidential primary.
The heaviness of Trump’s hand was felt across the country — as was the conspiratorial, “Stop the Steal” tenor of the party lining up behind him.
On Thursday — the same day Trump romped in the Nevada caucuses orchestrated by a state party whose chair was indicted after falsely claiming to be an elector for Trump in 2020 — the Supreme Court appeared to veer sharply in Trump’s favor in a case challenging his eligibility to run for president.
“He’s got a stronghold,” said Amy Tarkanian, a former chair of the Nevada Republican Party. “It’s not just on the Republican base, but also in the House. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s completely mind-boggling to me, the type of brainwashing that has been done.”
In Nevada, his allies urged Republicans to select “none of these candidates” over Nikki Haley in Tuesday’s primary, resulting in a lopsided defeat that, while purely symbolic, was designed to shame her for deigning to even challenge him. Trump swept the state’s caucus on Thursday, continuing his march to the GOP’s nominating convention in Milwaukee.
In Washington, Senate Republicans backtracked on — and then blocked — the bipartisan border and foreign aid legislation that was rejected off hand by GOP House leadership — at Trump’s demand. And RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel effectively tendered her resignation to Trump following the South Carolina primary on Feb. 24, after he made clear he wanted big “changes” at the RNC. Mike Reed, the party’s chief of staff, also is set to step down from his role later this month.
Trump adviser Jason Miller shared on X a Fox News story saying the former president recommended North Carolina Republican chair Michael Whatley, who has echoed Trump’s baseless claims of widespread election fraud, to replace McDaniel.
After news of McDaniel’s defenestration made headlines, MAGA personalities gathered in an X Spaces to cheer her exit. Kari Lake, a preeminent election denier and candidate running to unseat independent Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who helped negotiate the border deal, gleefully welcomed changes atop the GOP. Others threw out names of preferred candidates to lead the GOP, including recently deposed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The week was validation of seemingly everything figures like Lake were pushing for.
“I’m coming,” she said, pitching her planned Arizona comeback as being in service to Trump and his movement. “And I’m bringing my sledgehammer with me.”
The power moves from Trump and his allies were a reminder of Trump’s dominion over the GOP. More than that, they illustrated how much the election-denying wing of the party remains in control — even after Republicans lost the White House in 2020, underperformed in the 2022 midterms and took a beating in several special elections.
“I’ve never doubted his ability to win the nomination—his grip on the party is complete,” said Jeff Timmer, a senior adviser to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project and the former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party.
Trump’s political steamroll is only gaining momentum. He leads Haley in her home state of South Carolina by a wide margin, and of the March 5 Super Tuesday states where she presumably stands the best chance of notching her first win, Massachusetts, he’s opened up a 17-point advantage.
For all of Trump’s momentum, the week was not without warning signs for what his grip on the party might mean for the GOP’s prospects in November. A scathing appeals court ruling out of Washington strongly suggested it would reject Trump’s immunity claims from criminal charges stemming from his effort to subvert the 2020 election.
Still, even the Supreme Court, which had been unfriendly to Trump’s election-denial efforts in the past, seemed to nod in his favor on Thursday, when it took up a Colorado ruling that had deemed him ineligible, under the 14th Amendment, to appear on the state’s ballot. That same day, Trump was handed a political gift when the special counsel investigating President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents issued his report. While finding no criminal charges are warranted, the report presented a damaging portrayal of Biden’s mental acuity.
“At this point, it’s time for the party just to unite,” said South Carolina Republican state Sen. Josh Kimbrell, who switched from backing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to Trump following the Iowa caucuses. “I think what Governor Haley’s doing is detrimental to our ability to win in November. It’s a lot of Republican on Republican violence. It’s not helping, and she’s not going to win her own state. Look, when you lose Nevada to ‘nobody,’ that’s pretty bad.”
While the immunity and 14th Amendment questions work their way through the courts — along with the rest of the Trump charges in Georgia, New York and Washington — Haley and Biden tried to paint the week’s events as reasons to reject Trump. She argued Republicans can’t fight “Democrat chaos” with Trump-instigated GOP morass, and contended what has made him unstoppable in the primary will be the party’s undoing in November.
Biden vented to Manhattan donors that Trump’s GOP reign has made it impossible to legislate, even on supposed Republican terms. Republican lawmakers, Biden lamented, were “walking away because they’ve got Donald Trump calling and threatening them.”
“For all the stories the MAGAs have loved to write about his chess-playing ability, he can’t play checkers. That’s what this immigration [bill] really shows,” Timmer said. “The Republicans have really overplayed their hand with this and given Biden and his stakeholder world an opportunity to really turn the tables on him.”
What remains of the pre-Trump, GOP establishment was further eroding, with Trump’s fiercest rivals coming in for drubbings of their own. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who blessed the border negotiations between Republicans and Democrats at each step of the way, is once again coming under attack from his own members.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas joined six other hardliners in blasting McConnell over the border deal, with Cruz calling on him to resign. It happened as House Republicans embarrassingly failed on votes to both impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and pass a clean $17.6 billion Israel aid bill.
Scott Reed, a veteran Republican strategist, characterized the developments, including the disorderly Tuesday and ensuing humiliation, as “terrible” for the party.
“Ronna getting kicked out, the Senate meltdown — how you had the seventh senator come out and say there needs to be leadership change – the whole Mayorkas thing and Nikki Haley being the cherry on top, losing 2-to-1 to ‘none of the above,’” he said. “It’s devastating.”
“It’s the Trump mystique,” he said. “It’s his grip on everything.”