In his effort to outflank Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida — his most potent challenger-in-waiting for the Republican presidential nomination — Donald Trump goes only in one direction: hard right.
Trump’s strategy requires him to continue his equivocation on white supremacism and his antisemitic supporters and to adopt increasingly extreme positions, including the “termination” of the Constitution in order to retroactively award him victory in the 2020 election. The more he attempts to enrage and invigorate his MAGA base in the Republican primaries, the more he forces his fellow partisans and conservatives to follow suit, threatening Republican prospects in the coming general election, as demonstrated by the poor showing of Trump clones in the 2022 midterm contests.
“The inclination to conspiracy and paranoia is the bond that links Trump to the far right,” Jeffrey C. Herf, a historian at the University of Maryland, wrote in an emailed response to my inquiry. “Trump without conspiracy theorizing is a nonentity,” he added, in a comment with wider applicability to the contemporary conservative movement.
Trump’s core voters, Herf continued, “love him for expressing their resentments and for pointing to tangible targets for their anger. Trump’s ‘fine people on both sides’ after the neo-Nazi riots in Charlottesville indicated that he understood very well that his coalition included voters who were both openly racist and antisemitic.”
Republicans in both the House and Senate, in Herf’s view, have acceded to the pressures created by Trump and his loyalists in the electorate.
In the case of the Senate vote on Trump’s fate after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, “Mitch McConnell flinched,” Herf wrote, because he “understood that he and the G.O.P. establishment had made a Faustian bargain with the far right, with Trump’s base, and that without that base the G.O.P. would probably be consigned to becoming a permanent minority party at the national level.” McCarthy, in turn, understands “exactly the same dynamic, that is, without Paul Gosar, Scott Perry, Andy Biggs, Lauren Boebert — and Marjorie Taylor Greene — the G.O.P.’s electoral prospects look dim.”