On Tuesday, Donald Trump announced that he would not support House Speaker Paul Ryan in his primary battle next week against challenger Paul Nehlen. This came just one day after Trump provided Nehlen, who is openly encouraging Democratic voters to crash the state’s open Republican primary, with an implicit endorsement on Twitter. In the same interview, Trump also declined to endorse Senator John McCain in his primary after McCain’s criticism of Trump’s handling of the Khizr Khan controversy, and he recently announced his intention to funnel money to future primary opponents of Senator Ted Cruz and Governor John Kasich.
So why is Trump, the now de facto leader of the Republican Party, choosing to spend so much of his time attacking fellow Republicans, even as the party continues to beg for unity?
Most objective analyses of the 2016 congressional races seem to share one prevailing opinion: Republicans will lose control of the Senate, while maintaining a slim majority in the House. Trump and his team recognize this and, as such, are not interested in aiding Republicans in minimizing lost territory. Aside from a handful of Republicans like Nehlen who have fully immersed themselves in Make America Great Again fandom, Trump has largely declined to use his newfound position of influence in the party to aid vulnerable Republicans. Rather, Trump’s focus has turned to purging dissent within the ranks and ensuring that his party’s delegation in Congress is decidedly pro-Trump.
In his own words, Trump has expressed that he does not mind being a “free agent” in the likely event that Democrats establish control of the Senate. Why would he? The cornerstone of Trump’s appeal thus far has been his superior business prowess and his famed dealmaking ability. The man who authored The Art of the Deal has made it clear that his presidency would be rooted in just that, his ability to finagle and bargain with the other side. Trump is eager to get to Washington so that he can get to hammering out deals with Democrats, hence the reason that it does not matter to him how many Democrats there are or what positions of power they hold. Though Republicans in Congress stand at the threshold of a major battle to maintain control, Trump has shown little to no interest in attacking any Democrat not named Hillary Clinton, who just happens to be the only Democrat standing in his way of the Oval Office.
But Trump wants to be the unquestioned leader and architect of the negotiations that emanate from his side of the boardroom table. His attacks on prominent Republican leaders like Ryan and McCain are designed to send a message to other Republican leaders, both current and future: get in line, or risk banishment. The CEO has no patience for subordinates who protest his vision. When it comes to dealmaking, there is no room for principle or conviction. Either plan to applaud the concessions and compromises crafted by President Trump or step aside. Resolute conservatism has no place in Trump’s new Republican Party, and those who wish to stand on conviction should expect to be replaced by cheerleading yes men.
There are two sides to every negotiating table. Donald Trump cares not who sits across from him at that table, only that those on his side profess their undying loyalty.