Forget all the old litmus tests for Republicans that once determined the merit of candidates; the questions about abortion rights, taxes, and ideology. These days only one question really matters: Are you for or against Donald Trump?
And some of the primary contests leading up to this fall’s midterm election are proving the point. In South Carolina, Republican Katie Arrington attacked incumbent congressman, Mark Sanford, for his criticisms of the chief executive. “I’m running for Congress to get things done,” one of her commercials said, “not to go on CNN and bash President Trump!” Trump tweeted his support for her just hours before the vote, and she walked away with the win.
In the Virginia Senate race, Corey Stewart’s commercial proclaimed, “Want to stand with President Trump? There is only one choice.” He too rode the Trump wave to victory and collected the president’s congratulations, amid his controversial statement about Confederate memorials, the Confederate flag, and dealings with white supremacists.
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Back in D.C., Speaker of the House Paul Ryan tried to brush off the results. “That’s just what happens in contested primaries,” he said. But polls suggest something else is at work. While about 40 percent of Americans approve of the president’s performance, among Republicans Gallup has that number at more than doubles. Trump is working that to his advantage — savaging members of his own party over even slight critiques of his style or plans.
“We’re in a strange place,” Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker says. He argues his fellow Republican lawmakers are now so worried about the wrath of Trump voters, they won’t even promote measures they want unless they know he’s onboard. “It’s almost become a cultish thing.”
Whether Trump can turn his primary successes into midterm triumphs this fall remains very much in doubt. But for the moment, the winner’s circle is filling with his allies and their message to the Republican old guard is get over it, get in line, and get used to it. Or as Kate Arrington told her cheering fans amid the victory celebration, “We are the party of President Donald J. Trump!”
CNN’s Tom Foreman is the author of the book “My Year of Running Dangerously.”