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GOP candidates' acts of loyalty to Trump underscore ex-president's grip on the party

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel speaks at the Ohio Republican Party election night celebration in Columbus, Ohio.
Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel speaks at the Ohio Republican Party election night celebration in Columbus, Ohio.Tony Dejak / AP file

WASHINGTON — If you want to see how Donald Trump remains the driving force in Republican politics, just look at the activity from GOP politicians who are up for re-election or running in Republican primaries next year.

Eric Greitens, who’s running in a crowded field of candidates for Missouri’s open Senate seat, traveled to Arizona to observe that so-called audit of the 2020 presidential results there.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says he’s trying to complete Trump’s border wall, with the help of private donations.

Josh Mandel, running for Ohio’s open Senate seat, is setting masks on fire.

Other GOP incumbents and candidates are calling for Dr. Anthony Fauci to be fired (here and here); they’re denouncing critical race theory (here, here and here); they’re hiring former Trump aides and operatives to work on their campaigns (here, here and here); and they’re going out of their way to wish the former president happy birthday on their Twitter feeds (here, here and here).

Arizona audit. Wall. Masks. Fauci. Critical Race Theory. “Happy Birthday, President Trump.”

Call it MAGA bingo.

Another way to look at all of it: When a party no longer offers a new party platform or new public-policy ideas, the way for its politicians to distinguish themselves is through symbols, gestures, performance art and — above all — loyalty to the former president.

Even seven months after that former president’s defeat and five months after Jan. 6.

Talking policy with Benjy: The final Obamacare surrender

It’s the third time in a decade we’ve seen the same headline: “Supreme Court Saves Affordable Care Act.” But there are signs this one might be the last hurrah for existential threats to the health care law, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin writes.

Unlike past rulings, there were few complaints from prominent Republicans about the 7-2 decision or accusations that the conservative justices sold them out. Instead, some Republicans gloated that Democrats had falsely warned Justice Amy Coney Barrett would overturn the ACA ahead of the election.

The implication was a little odd: Democrats were stupid to worry that a lawsuit backed by President Trump, endorsed by his Justice Department, and led by 18 Republican attorneys general, might succeed in front of a Supreme Court with three of his appointees?

But the GOP reaction showcased how the politics of the issue had shifted in recent years. Even before Thursday’s decision, Democrats had passed a big expansion of ACA subsidies in the last COVID bill with minimal backlash on the right. Republicans, burned by unpopular and unsuccessful attempts to repeal and replace the ACA under Trump, have been reluctant to engage on Obamacare for years, preferring instead to attack new targets like Medicare for All.

Many Republicans would likely have been happy to move on after their repeal attempts failed in 2017. But the lawsuit — and Trump's support for it — dragged the issue on. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., who was running in a state Trump won by more than 40 points, shot a copy of the lawsuit in a campaign ad, while Republicans tried to convince voters they supported the law’s protections for pre-existing conditions. In the 2020 cycle, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a re-election debate that "no one believes the Supreme Court is going to strike down the Affordable Care Act."

There are plenty of health care fights on the horizon. Republicans are dead-set against attempts to expand government health coverage, either through Medicare or a public option. Red states that didn’t expand Medicaid through the ACA face ongoing debates over whether to accept the money. There are looming issues with drug pricing, where there may be more room for bipartisanship. There could even be lawsuits over other aspects of the ACA, some of which might find favor with conservative judges.

What the party does seem inclined to move past, though, is the era of trying to kill the law in one grand swoop. And the longer it sits on the books, the harder it becomes to imagine removing it.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

7-2: The Supreme Court’s decision to preserve the Affordable Care Act from a GOP-led challenge

268-161: The vote in the U.S. House to repeal the 2002 AUMF that authorized the use of military force in Iraq

$3.2 billion: How much the Biden administration will invest in oral Covid-19 antiviral pills.

Less than 4 percent: The share of vaccinations in the United States from the once much-hoped-for Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine.

33,665,230: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 12,243 more than yesterday morning.)

604,767: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 575 more than yesterday morning.)

314,969,386: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

41.0 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per NBC News.

55.2 percent: The share of all American adults over 18 who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

Tweet of the day

Virginia Governor: Third-party candidate qualifies for ballot

In 2013, Terry McAuliffe won Virginia’s gubernatorial contest by 56,435 votes.

And the third-party candidate in the race, Libertarian Robert Sarvis, got 146,000 votes.

Well, for this year’s contest, another third-party candidate qualified for the ballot. But this time, she’s Black and not coming from the Libertarian right.

“Princess Blanding, a Richmond activist whose brother was fatally shot by a city police officer in 2018, will be on the ballot this November as a third-party candidate for governor,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch writes.

“Blanding became a prominent figure during the protests over police brutality in Richmond last summer, when the death of her brother attracted renewed attention.”

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The Supreme Court’s move yesterday showed that Trump was wrong about his hand-picked justices and the health care law, writes Jonathan Allen.

What’s next for Democrats on the health care front after yesterday’s Supreme Court decision?

Juneteenth is now a federal holiday.

McConnell says Manchin’s voting compromise legislation is a no-go.

The West is experiencing a record-breaking heat wave — before the worst of the summer kicks in.

Here’s what New York City’s mayoral candidates are saying in their closing arguments.