Stirewaltisms: Trump’s Faction of One


I think Yuval Levin is quite right that former President Donald Trump’s prodigal endorsements in 2022 Republican primary contests will be a major force in Trump’s shift from being the leader of the GOP to the leader of a faction of the party.

I would think this was so even if Yuval was not my boss at the American Enterprise Institute. (Though his efforts to maintain strategic reserves of cold Fresca for our refreshment here would be reason enough to defer to his judgment.) The obvious truth about Trump is that he has never wanted to be the leader of the whole Republican Party, let alone the whole country. Trump is a chauvinist in every sense of the word, but particularly in his excessive, prejudiced preference for his group.

It would be hard enough to lead a party if one’s chauvinism was ideological or demographic. Parties, or at least parties that can win in a diverse, continental nation, have to include many different groups. But in Trump’s case, it is far worse. “His group” is quite literal here: People who follow him, flatter him, pay him, etc. The barriers to being one of Trump’s people are low, but the requirements for continued membership are severe. One must agree with Trump, even when Trump contradicts himself. When Trump fails or falters, defeat must be called victory and discarded promises must be called strategic genius.

This marries up with another tendency of Trumpism: the cult of victimhood. Leaders of large institutions must have the capacity to accept blame. It is the price of power. Trump does not do accountability. Witness the Alabama Senate primary to which Yuval pointed. As it became clear that Trump’s endorsee, Rep. Mo Brooks, was a dog who would not hunt in the race to replace retiring Sen. Richard Shelby, Trump ditched Brooks. No doubt Trump was peeved by the fact that Brooks once told a Trump crowd to move on from Trump’s effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, but Trump has stuck with other candidates who were even more honest about the election than Brooks, like Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Brooks’ real sin was being a loser. Sticking with a losing candidate is what an accountable leader does, but not Trump.

Now comes the furor over Trump’s endorsement of Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary over hedge fund honcho David McCormick. Both are nouveau nationalists who seem to have reinvented themselves to seek the support of Trump and his voters. Both are crazy rich. Both have hired or sought the favor of Trump insiders. But Oz is a celebrity, which makes him Trump’s peer in a way that all of McCormick’s success and accomplishments never could. Imagine the tie-ins with Trump’s new media company! But Oz is also the demonstrably worse choice for Republicans in Pennsylvania.

Democrats may be bound for a similar mistake in choosing a colorful, complicated nominee in Lt. Gov. John Fetterman over the more reliable Rep. Conor Lamb, but Republicans should not assume that Democrats will err. Oz is an odd duck and has never been around politics and public service in any serious way. He would be the first Muslim ever to serve in the Senate, and seeking to break a cultural barrier has long been thought by uncharitable souls to be a problem for some Pennsylvania voters. That’s not to say that McCormick is an ideal pick. The source of Oz’s wealth comes with lots of baggage. McCormick’s does, too.  Oz is a carpetbagger who moved to the state to run. McCormick, though born and raised in Pennsylvania, is open to that charge, too. Even so, it’s not a close call. McCormick is better vetted and more experienced and therefore a safer choice in a race that promises to be bruising. 

But the Pennsylvania endorsement looks like world-class strategy compared to Trump’s inflation of an ugly primary for Georgia governor in which Republicans will burn enough money to cover Sanford Stadium with gold plating and risk a general election defeat over a personal vendetta Trump has against the state’s popular conservative governor, Brian Kemp. That is the last thing Republicans should do in a key state that has been trending blue of late. This wasteful primary could have long-lasting consequences for a state party that desperately needs to unify.

But what does Trump care about all that jazz? Think back to the stories about Trump reportedly threatening to leave the Republican Party in his pique over what he deemed insufficient support for his bid to steal a second term. In his book, ABC News’ Jon Karl said that when RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel begged Trump not to go because it would doom the party, the former president replied: “Exactly. You lose forever without me. I don’t care.” Now, when Trump found out that such a schism would cost him millions in the contributions he was hoovering up from Republican donors, he reconsidered. But the sentiment is right on: I don’t care. Good candidates, bad candidates, smart endorsements, foolish endorsements: I don’t care.

Trump, the solipsistic chauvinist, doesn’t care what happens to the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, Georgia, or anywhere else in the next generation, the next decade or even this November. What matters to him is how his faction of one is faring right now. If Oz is another dog that won’t hunt, don’t be surprised if Trump dumps him, too.

Democrats went through lesser versions of this with Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Obama was famously disdainful of party building and saw himself more as an individual phenomenon. Clinton was more of a party man, but like Trump, drove his party off a cliff in pursuit of his selfish desire to hold power. It’s 25 years later, and Democrats are only getting more embarrassed about having protected a president without the decency to resign from office after his assignations with a 21-year-old intern were discovered. But those guys are pikers on selfishness compared to Trump, who is proud to say that he has no loyalty to his party and, even when he was the sitting president with approval rates among Republicans over 90 percent, acted like he was some insurgent.

The bleating from Republicans who joined Trump’s smash-and-grab job on the GOP about how Trump is now not acting judiciously to care for the party’s future is preposterous. But as Yuval shows us, it points to the most likely way that Republicans will remake themselves:

“[B]y choosing one office-seeker to endorse, let alone choosing a likely loser, Trump has made non-Trump Republicans out of the other candidates and their voters. This increases the number of non-Trump Republicans who aren’t in the explicitly anti-Trump wing of the party, creates a lot of politicians who no longer imagine he has some magical hold on their voters, and gets a lot more voters accustomed to thinking of themselves as outside of his ambit.”

Trump, in his own mind, is already the leader of a faction of the Republican Party, and is probably happy as master of his own domain. But that will feel different to him when Republicans whom he forced into hard choices get more comfortable with being in other camps and when those used to pay lip service to his lordship start blowing him off. 

Trump’s faction is clearly defined. This year’s primary may also show us the shape of the others.

Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


Biden job performance

Average approval: 39 percent
Average disapproval: 53.8 percent
Net score: -14.8 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 2 points

[Average includes: Ipsos: 41% approve-53% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 33% approve-54% disapprove; CNBC: 38% approve-53% disapprove; Marist College: 39% approve-54% disapprove; Marquette University Law School: 44% approve-55% disapprove]

Generic congressional ballot 

Democrats: 43.4 percent
Republicans: 45 percent
Net advantage: Republican Party +1.6
Change from one week ago: Republican Party ↓ 0.2 points

[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 43% Democrat, 47% Republican; NBC News: 44% Democrat, 46% Republican; Fox News: 41% Democrat, 43% Republican; Monmouth University: 46% Democrat, 46% Republican; Pew Research Center: 43% Democrat, 43% Republican]


Bloomberg: “Plenty of Millennials who grew up with a Waldenbooks, a Crown or a Borders have the same nostalgia for those chains that they feel for the malls that once contained them. At the same time, Gen Z is taking to TikTok to talk about books — driving billions of views as well as sales for authors’ backlists — and staging those videos at Barnes & Noble. B&N’s green-and-cream decor persists as an accessible symbol for books and, in a country recently starved for social interaction, a place where one day we will browse together again. Trends may come and go, but wooden shelves and squishy chairs will always mean, ‘Curl up with a book.’ The last of the major chains is betting on that rebound: Barnes & Noble, which once said it would whittle itself down to 450 stores by 2022, started the year with 625 — and plans to add 20 to 25 more in 2022.”


Politico: “Four months after [President Biden’s] Build Back Better plan collapsed amid a bitter back-and-forth with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the White House is taking a final shot at resuscitating its social spending bill — and this time it’s vowing a sharply different approach to the negotiations. Top Biden officials are keeping their ambitions vague. They’re steering clear of firm deadlines. Most importantly, they’re trying as hard as possible to just not talk about it at all. … The administration and its allies spent months last year trying to pressure Manchin into supporting a $1.7 trillion climate and social spending package, only to see the negotiations blow up in December. Now Manchin is signaling he’s willing to deal again, and Democrats are all but begging him to write the legislation himself. ‘This is really up to Joe,’ one person familiar with the party dynamics said of senior Democrats’ attitude. ‘It’s basically going to be the Manchin reconciliation bill when all is said and done.’”

Sinema flexes: Arizona Republic: “U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema vowed Tuesday to conduct herself in the same manner as she did during the ‘Build Back Better’ negotiations of 2021 should Democrats try to revive the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. ‘What I can’t tell you is if negotiations will start again or what they’ll look like,’ Sinema, D-Ariz., said at an Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry luncheon at the Arizona Biltmore resort in Phoenix. ‘But what I can promise you is that I’ll be the same person in negotiations if they start again that I was in negotiations last year.’ Sinema told the business group that she remains opposed to raising taxes on corporations: ‘You all know, the entire country knows, that I’m opposed to raising the corporate minimum tax rate.’ She also reiterated her opposition against ‘any tax policies that would put a brake on any type of economic growth or forestall business and personal growth for America’s industries.’”

DNC weighs slower, later presidential nominating process: NPR: “The Democratic National Committee is opening the door to significant changes to how the party picks presidential candidates in the future. Members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, which governs the nominating process, are meeting this week to consider a proposal that would overhaul the party’s traditional calendar, in which Iowa’s caucuses go first, followed by primaries in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Instead, committee members are discussing a proposal that would require states or territories to apply if they want to hold a nominating contest before Super Tuesday in early March, and up to five early contests would be allowed. At the last meeting of the committee, many members voiced support for the plan.”

Hochul may be stuck with disgraced running mate: Wall Street Journal: “The arrest and resignation of New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin has left allies of Gov. Kathy Hochul scrambling to figure out whether and how they can replace him as her running mate in this year’s election. Mr. Benjamin, 45 years old, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to five charges related to what prosecutors said was a bribery scheme. He suspended his campaign and will ‘focus his energies on explaining in court why his actions were laudable, not criminal,’ his lawyer said. In New York state, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run in separate party primaries before the winners are placed on a ticket together in the November general election. Mr. Benjamin was the Democratic Party’s official designee for lieutenant governor and can only be removed from the ballot if he dies, moves out of state or is nominated for another office, election lawyers said.”

Le Pen tries to shed pro-Putin stance ahead of French runoff: Politico: “French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said Wednesday that accusations she was close to Russia were ‘unfair,’ and reiterated that she had changed her stance on the Kremlin since the war in Ukraine. ‘The trial I am subjected to is particularly unfair,’ the National Rally politician told a press conference in Paris, at which she set out her proposals on foreign policy ahead of an April 24 runoff vote against incumbent Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential election. ‘Until the triggering of the war in Ukraine, I actually believed that it was in the interest of France to have closer ties with Russia again…’ Le Pen said. But since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Le Pen has struggled to shake off the image of being a pro-Vladimir Putin candidate, despite her attempts to downplay her affinity toward the Russian leader and present herself as a more mainstream choice in the presidential race.”

As Perdue struggles, Trump makes rare investment: Politico: “Former President Donald Trump’s political operation is plowing cash into Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial primary — his organization’s first major financial investment in a midterm race and an indication that he’s willing to dig into his massive war chest to defeat his foes. Trump’s Save America PAC has transferred $500,000 to a super PAC devoted to defeating Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, whom the former president has targeted over his refusal to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results. Those close to Trump’s political apparatus describe it as an initial cash infusion ahead of the May 24 primary, which pits Kemp against Trump-endorsed former Sen. David Perdue. Trump is opening his account for another candidate for the first time since leaving the White House. The former president — who continues to capitalize on a deep well of small donor support — has stockpiled more than $110 million, making his committee one of the most well-funded organizations in politics.”

Florida lawmakers bow to DeSantis on new districts: Tampa Bay [Florida] Times: “Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed … that the congressional redistricting map he is proposing will dismantle a congressional district designed to help Black voters living in the former plantation territories of North Florida. ‘I think that what they’ll produce will be something that will be acceptable to folks and obviously we’d get my signature for proposing it,’ he said at a bill-signing news conference in Miami. ‘It will, though, have North Florida drawn in a race-neutral manner.’ DeSantis has called legislators back into a special session on redistricting next week to redraw Florida congressional districts,  and on Monday House and Senate leaders announced that, after successfully passing a legislative map that the court has approved, they will leave the map-drawing work on the congressional plan to the governor.”

GOPers’ strange stampede on routine legislation: New York Times: “A bill to name a federal courthouse in Tallahassee after Justice Joseph W. Hatchett, the first Black man to serve on the Florida Supreme Court — sponsored by the state’s two Republican senators and backed unanimously by its 27 House members — was set to pass the House last month and become law with broad bipartisan support. But in a last-minute flurry, Republicans abruptly pulled their backing with no explanation and ultimately killed the measure … With little notice … a right-wing, first-term congressman mounted an 11th-hour effort on the House floor to persuade his colleagues that Judge Hatchett … was undeserving of being honored. … Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia … began circulating an Associated Press article from 1999 about an appeals court decision that Judge Hatchett wrote that year that struck down a public school policy allowing student-approved prayers at graduation ceremonies in Florida.”

Continetti: Keep Coolidge: Wall Street Journal: “In its protectionism, resistance to immigration, religiosity, and antipathy to foreign entanglements, Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again movement resembles the conservatism of the 1920s—with one significant difference. In the 1920s, the right was in charge. It was self-confident and prosperous. It saw itself as defending core American institutions. A century later, in the early 2020s, the right has been driven from power at the federal level. It has been locked out of the commanding heights of American culture: technology, media, entertainment, the academy. Its rhetoric has often veered into apocalypticism and conspiracy theory. Parts of the right today look a lot more like the populist Democrats of William Jennings Bryan—who rallied under one banner all those who felt excluded from or dispossessed by the economic, social and cultural powers of his time—than the business-friendly Republicans of [Calvin Coolidge]. This combination of cultural estrangement and economic insecurity has made today’s Republicans much more open to government intervention in the market than their forebears.”


Meet the Democratic voters pushed toward the GOP by pandemic policy—Wall Street Journal

Texas Republicans join opposition to Abbott’s border inspections—Texas Tribune

Aloha means goodbye: Hawaiian congressman uses proxy votes for no-shows—The Dispatch

Mark Meadows removed from N.C. voter rolls as fraud probe continues—WRAL 

Hillsdale makes big move into charter school business—New York Times 

Labash: There’s no fool like an old fool—Slack Tide


“I really thought this was not one person doing this. Then, when I found out it was a female, that shocked me even more.”—Houston car dealership owner Mounir Driss in ABC13 after a female robber in a sports bra vandalized a black Chevrolet Camaro writing, “Jesus loves you” and stole a gold Mercedes SL500 hard-top convertible. The thief remains at large. 


“[With] all due mercy and love in my heart, how [did] a kid who grew up in West Virginia and had a dad who had the time of his life a stone’s throw from Wrigley Field become a Cardinals fan. I understand not being a Cubs fan—that happens to people sometimes—but a Cardinals fan? Was it a function of the KMOX radio signal winding its way through the Appalachians? A sense of community with those of the same latitude line? An appreciation of Ted Simmons‘ hair?”—Craig Berry, Frankfort, Illinois

First, never underestimate the power of a quality mullet, Mr. Berry! And while I was not one of those many recruited into Cardinals fandom by the sonorous voice of Jack Buck blasted out across the heartland by 50,000 watts of KMOX broadcasting power. My own indoctrination came in person when my father’s work in the coal business took my family to St. Louis for four years when I was growing up. I got there in time for the peak of the Herzog era and the greatest glories of Ozzie Smith. Cardinals playoff and World Series baseball, even in the ungainly contours of the old Busch Stadium, spoiled me for all other teams and baseball experiences. And Cardinals’ Opening Day, with the Clydesdales kicking up their hooves, is to me just plain perfect. I can almost taste the Pevely Dairy Brown Cow. And I accept as part of membership in this community certain doctrinal truths, including the fact that the team that plays its home games at 1060 West Addison Street in Chicago is to be opposed strenuously and unstintingly. This is the way.

“As a longtime fan of baseball AND classical liberalism, I appreciated your opening comments on the state of the modern game and the parallels to our current cultural/political moment. Baseball is suffering from many of the afflictions that Yuval Levin identifies in modern institutions, chief among them the (mis)use of the game as a platform for personal brands, political programs, and cheap gimmickry. Rob Manfred seems intent on forcing baseball down the path of Mainline Protestantism, introducing innovations into the canon that alienate the faithful while failing to make any new converts. Defending the requirement for pitchers to hit is equivalent to explaining the reason for Chesterton’s fence; we shouldn’t be in the business of jettisoning long-lived norms (whether in sports or politics) without understanding why they exist in the first place. Maybe the extra offense and roster spots generated by the universal DH will grow the game’s fanbase, or maybe they will further dilute the product on the field and diminish the fervor of existing fans. In either case, this move looks a lot like the type of craven pandering that has become all-too-common among the ‘leaders’  of our institutions who are unable to summon the courage to insist on conformity with institutional norms as the price of admission. Baseball is like any orthodoxy; it is at its most compelling when it insists that you grapple with it on its own terms. Thanks.”—Phil Rexroth, Lorton, Virginia

Preach it, Brother Rexroth!

You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and always good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission anonymous. My colleague, the intrepid Samantha Goldstein, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack! 


Yadier Molina (left) and Adam Wainright of the St Louis Cardinals. (Photograph by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos/Getty Images.)

Our winner this week is someone who knows a thing or two about great St. Louis food and the vital need for Velamints on the mound…

“Sorry about my breath. Had a Gioia’s hot salami sandwich for lunch.”—Kevin Hodge, York, Pennsylvania 

Honorable mention:

“So, you catchers have always had a mask mandate?”—Douglas Leo, Palatine, Illinois

Grudgingly chuckled at:

“Geriatric Cardinals confirm they’re meeting at Stan Musial’s house after the game.”—Joe Lancaster, Plano, Texas

Readers should send in their proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun! 


KTVU: “Drones can map inaccessible terrain, replant areas impacted by wildfires and detect and detonate landmines. They can also rescue ducks. That’s what happened this week in Dublin [California] when community members called for help about some stranded feathered friends. Lt. Ray Kelly on Wednesday said that along with the help of Dublin police, the sheriff’s mini-drone spotted a group of ducklings stuck in a storm drain on Beverly Court. The specialized cameras on the drones were able to see the ducks in the tight tunnels of the drain. Photos show law enforcement scooping the ducks out of the drain and placing them safely in a box. Kelly said in all, they were able to safely recover seven baby ducklings. The sheriff’s office noted this was their first duck drone rescue—and a successful one.”

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a book on media and politics available August 23. Samantha Goldstein contributed to this report.

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