Donald Trump is suddenly making as much news as his beleaguered successor.
While Joe Biden is mired in a border crisis, a Covid conundrum and Democratic paralysis, Trump is remaking the Republican Party in ways that seemed unimaginable after the election and the Capitol riot.
He is back to denouncing the media on a daily basis, but more important, he is trying to redefine who can be considered a Republican in increasingly narrow ways. That’s why dismissing him as a distraction doesn’t work. He is the unquestioned leader of the GOP and could well run in 2024.
Perhaps the biggest dilemma, especially for the press, is this: What to do when Trump’s version of reality clashes with objective, verifiable facts? And that no longer means fighting the last war, the continuing investigations of the efforts to overturn what the former president describes, without evidence, as a rigged election.
The Arizona audit, commissioned by Republicans and bankrolled in part by Trump allies, was by any reasonable standard a disaster for Donald. It showed, as state officials maintained all along, that Biden had indeed won the state–in fact, he should have gotten 99 more votes, and Trump 261 fewer.
BIDEN ALLIES HURL PARTY’S WORST INSULT IN BORDER CRISIS: ACTING LIKE TRUMP
In the process, the Friday report by Cyber Ninjas–an outfit with no previous election experience–raised a bunch of hypothetical questions. To be clear, there was no documentation that individual people had committed fraud as Biden won the state by more than 10,000 votes.
Instead, the Ninjas said duplicate ballots might have been counted, that mail ballots might have come from the wrong addresses, that some people might have voted in multiple counties and that 282 voters might have been, well, dead. But it’s all about potential problems.
For instance, the audit found some voters with the same names who were born in the same year, but didn’t check the birth dates–thus it’s entirely possible that these were just people with common names.
And yet, Trump said the findings were “so disgracefully reported” by “virtually every mainstream media source,” naming such “dishonest” outlets as the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN.
Trump said “we won” the audit and called for Arizona’s election to be decertified. He cited the report’s hypotheticals as fact, saying many votes “could not have been physically cast,” nine times more than he needed to overturn the results.
When I reported on the audit, I was personally attacked by numerous Trump fans on Twitter as idiotic, biased and a liar, even though anyone can go online and read the report. These supporters just echo his claims. If he says he won, then he won–just as they believe the entire election was stolen (though new reporting shows the Trump campaign itself privately debunked some of the wilder claims about rigged voting machines).
Trump long ago made clear he’d retaliate against Republicans who supported impeachment, such as Liz Cheney, and to some extent that’s just hardball politics. He’s now extended that to George W. Bush, who’s holding a fundraiser for his VP’s daughter–and that’s not surprising, since Trump ran against Bush and the Iraq war in 2016.
What I did find striking is that Trump just called Bush a RINO. The insult Republican In Name Only used to be hurled against those who were insufficiently conservative, derided as squishy moderates.
SUBSCRIBE TO HOWIE’S MEDIA BUZZMETER PODCAST, A RIFF OF THE DAY’S HOTTEST STORIES
But how can the previous GOP president, the son of the late former president, be called a RINO, even if he did run as a compassionate conservative? Isn’t Bush the epitome of the Republican establishment?
Trump is now saying he is the establishment. That’s how he can constantly attack Mitch McConnell, a true-blue conservative who helped him deliver a huge tax cut and a phalanx of right-wing judges–but who also held Trump responsible in the aftermath of Jan. 6.
Now Trump is slamming two conservatives who were among his closest Senate allies, Lindsey Graham and Mike Lee. The reason? The Bob Woodward-Robert Costa book described them as unconvinced by the election fraud arguments that were made by Rudy Giuliani and other Trump lawyers, with Graham describing them as “third grade” stuff.
“Lindsey and Mike should be ashamed of themselves for not putting up the fight necessary to win,” Trump said in a statement to reporters, adding: “RINOs fight harder against Republicans than they do against Democrats.”
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
So the new definition is clear. A RINO is any Republican who Trump deems insufficiently loyal. It has little to do with ideology–Trump didn’t run, or govern, as a small-c conservative. He wants to purge the party of his critics and install true-blue Trumpians in their place.
It might happen. Some GOP veterans are retiring rather than run again; others will be knocked off in primaries. And that’s why many mainstream Republicans are trying not to engage on the rigged election allegations, hoping to avoid the wrath of the party’s most powerful force.