The elevation of Trump loyalist Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) to House Conference chair is being portrayed as yet another victory for Donald Trump, cementing his grip on a party that once prided itself as being the intellectual superior to Democratic airhead hippies.
But -- as with so much of Trump's history -- anything he markets as a win merits closer inspection. Maybe we should've read more deeply into his odd prediction that we'd get tired of winning; it was an amusing exaggeration, but it might also have revealed a lack of familiarity with actual victory.
After all, Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. And he claims to have beaten Joe Biden, but…contra his own logic…left the White House anyway.
And look at his most foundational victory: Money. His true wealth -- or lack thereof -- remains a mystery. What riches he does have appear to represent a shortfall compared to what he would have accrued had he been a passive investor/golfer. His list of Trump businesses is a litany of failure that would stick in anyone else's craw like a gristly lump of Trump Steak.
So we should be skeptical of the media's current position that now, at this late stage in a life of short cons, Trump is truly racking up his first authentic victory by securing an iron grip on the Grand Old Party.
It's true, his loyalists clearly constitute a majority of elected GOP officials. Registered Republicans love the guy, and hundreds of them were willing on Jan. 6 to risk jail time for him (admittedly, they didn't know that they were risking jail time for him, but his suckers can't complain any more that we didn't warn them).
No matter how powerful, however, affection is not the same as commitment. And in Trump's case, it's difficult to convert affection into action -- if only because Trump doesn't actually stand for anything other than Trump. One pitfall of solipsism is that a lack of interest in the external world degrades the ability to affect the external world.
And, sure enough, when you look at concrete measures, past results are a pretty good indicator of current performance.
Yes, Stefanik replaced Cheney. But this was a perfect example -- Cheney was actually more loyal to Trump when it came to specifics, voting with him 92.9 percent of the time.
And the two most powerful Republicans in the country reject Trump's central, animating narrative. House Min. Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on Wednesday claimed falsely, but tellingly, that no one questions the legitimacy of Pres. Biden's election.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) long ago abandoned Trump's self-serving fairy tale, and has largely stayed clear of the fray. (McConnell is the rare Trump foe who's realized the best way to defeat a solipsist is to ignore them; outside the confines of Trump's shrinking bubble, McConnell is free to do pretty much what he wants.)
Farther down the ballot, wherever a Trump loyalist tries to breach the membrane of the Trump reality coccoon, they get burned. Look at the Arizona Republicans turning on their own election recount. "It makes us look like idiots," one of its instigators now says.
Go even deeper, right to the base, and it gets even worse. Trump's new social media platform is an abject failure. If Trump taught his base anything, it's that politics shouldn't involve work, even if that work is as trivial as finding his website.
Ironically, the Republican Party may benefit from the schism he's created. Liz Cheney may now prove more palatable to independents and Democrats ignorant of her slavish loyalty to the Trump administration's legislative agenda. (Or her silence on past Republican malfeasance.)
And those 100 high-profile Republicans rebelling against their party may have pissed off Trump, but they could very well end up helping his candidates by pulling anti-Trump voters away from Democrats. (If the rebel Republicans are truly sincere in their efforts, they'll work to elect Democrats.)
As with so much of what Trump touches, he succeeds only at making things worse. He's taught almost half the country that thinking is bad. He's validated the (white) supremacy of instinctual self-gratification over the intellectual rigor of empiricism and logic.
Ironically, Trump's one success may turn out to be assuring the end of his own significance. Endorsing a proud ahistoricity, after all, makes it that much easier for his loyalists to abandon him for whoever makes them feel good next. (Trump's precursor, Sarah Palin, fell much more quickly, lacking a number of Trump's advantages.)
And now that Trump has so gravely lowered the bar for policy and public discourse, he has obliged us not just to clean up his mess, but to ramp up our vigilance against the rise of his anti-intellectual progeny. Trump's only real victory, in other words, has been to cultivate the right conditions for a newer, potentially more toxic successor to replace him.