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OpinionColumnistsDan Janison

Trump & Co. to find out how long after losing they can lord it over Republicans

Former President Donald Trump at the Conservative Political

Former President Donald Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 28 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: Getty Images/Joe Raedle

The ability of a former president for the first time to call his party's shots from electoral exile entered a new testing phase this week.

By signing off on new voting rules aimed to favor the GOP, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp set off raging charges of racism. But inside his fiefdom, the changes might help him ward off peevish allegations from Mar-a-Lago that he isn’t Republican enough.

Kemp resisted Donald Trump's bizarre efforts to overturn his state's electoral vote results. Now, new Georgia rules that President Joe Biden calls a revival of Jim Crow can present Kemp with an unlikely badge of GOP loyalty going into next year's state elections.

On Tuesday, Kemp offered a dose of Trump-style alarmism on the Fox Business Network by slamming those who protest the voter restrictions. "They folded like a wet dishrag to the cancel culture," Kemp said of businesses that objected publicly to the legislation. "It is woke in real life, and Americans and Georgians should be scared."

That wasn't good enough to quiet Trump's jeering from the state's neighbor to the south. "Georgia’s election reform law is far too weak and soft to ensure real ballot integrity," he said in a statement calling Kemp a Republican in Name Only.

The bluster of Trump as a political boss isn't just about boosting favorites and punishing those he sees as disloyal. It involves money too.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is threatening donors in emails that if they opt out of recurring monthly donations, "We will have to tell Trump you’re a DEFECTOR." That suggests an effort to keep the GOP a cult of personality well past Trump's 45th presidency. The question to be followed up is whether the tactic works.

As usual, at least one member of Trump's circle is facing criminal investigation, which can help define who's in and who's out. New developments concerning Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) keep emerging. Trump this week issued a tepid statement about Gaetz that political observers viewed as a slight distancing.

Now, Trump has more than one member of his power clique preparing to run for New York governor, although the former president is widely seen as toxic on his former home turf, having lost the state twice.

These candidates include Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who at Trump's demand, voted against certifying election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Another is Andrew Giuliani, a former Trump patronage employee and the son of Rudy Giuliani, the lawyer known for spreading Trump's fake fraud assertions.

How they and others in the GOP spin their past subservience to Trump will be interesting to see.

On the matter of party solidarity: The bile for Trump in ex-House Speaker John Boehner’s newly published memoir serves as a reminder of how alien the defeated president was from the party powerful who preceded him.

Former Vice President Mike Pence this week created a committee called Advancing American Freedom, which could serve to advance a presidential campaign of his own. Despite Trump's nasty condemnation of Pence via Twitter at a dangerous moment in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, Pence still treats Trump as his sovereign, supporting the myth of "significant voting irregularities" in the November election.

How long the GOP's deference to Trump may last, despite a stunning cluster of loyalty and integrity issues, remains anyone's guess. For the time being, Mar-a-Lago will fill the role as the seat of the party's operations.

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