Irish Times view on the US Republican primaries

Donald Trump continues to rewrite the narrative of politics

As another round of US Republican primaries this week demonstrates, the hope among that party’s dwindling centrist ranks that former President Trump’s vice-like grip may be waning, is a forlorn one. Trump has publicly toyed with the idea of a rerun in 2024 and his nomination is certain if he wants it, according to party rival Mitt Romney. With candidates in his own image, he is now laying the groundwork to recapture the Senate in the November mid-term elections. It is already held by Republicans by the narrowest of margins.

It hasn’t all gone his way but a number of stand-out victories, attributable predominantly to Trump’s endorsement, confirm the trend. In open Senate primaries in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, Trump-supported candidates have vied – mostly successfully – with others from the extreme right. Most notably in the former, Ted Budd won the Republican nomination. And Doug Mastriano won his contest to be party candidate for Pennsylvania’s governorship.

In Pennsylvania, daytime television star and Trump nominee, Mehmet Oz, is neck and neck with former hedge fund boss David McCormick, after a campaign in which each spent a staggering $14 million. But Trump’s endorsement proved insufficient to clinch a primary win for a House seat for Madison Cawthorn, a controversial young lawmaker from North Carolina. He had a spectacular falling-out with fellow Republicans after claiming he had been invited to an orgy in Washington and had witnessed political figures take cocaine.

In Georgia’s Senate race, Trump essentially ended the Republican primary before it even started by anointing scandal-plagued Herschel Walker to challenge the Democratic incumbent. In Ohio a couple of weeks ago, Trump’s endorsement of author of Hillbilly Elegy, JD Vance, propelled the latter from fourth in the field to the top, assisted by billionaire Peter Thiel’s millions.

The number of hard-core Trump voters may be shrinking, but only marginally. Pollsters for NBC recently asked Republicans “Are you more a supporter of Donald Trump than of the Republican Party?” Before the 2020 election, 54 per cent said Trump. In late January 2022, the numbers were evenly divided, at 46 per cent each way.

But by surfing increasing polarisation in US society and the alienation of working class voters, Trump continues to rewrite the narrative of politics. His ideas are now deeply embedded in the national agenda. It is increasingly clear that if the "captured" Republican Party is to come up with an alternative candidate, it will almost certainly be from the ranks of neo-Trumpist political clones on the party's far right – politicians like Florida or Virginia governors Ron de Santis and Glenn Youngkin, or Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. The age of Trump is far from over.