IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

He still controls the GOP but state parties are trying to prevent future Trumps

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: President Donald Trump speaks before boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.,
President Donald Trump speaks before boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP file

WASHINGTON — Yes, this week confirmed that Donald Trump remains the de-facto leader of the Republican Party.

But something else happened, too: Republicans who are in the business of winning elections are trying to prevent future Trumps — at least those who have the same kind of baggage he did in 2015-2016 — from capturing statewide GOP contests.

Case in point: On Wednesday, Missouri Republicans offered a last-minute proposal to institute a Top-2 runoff if no candidate claims a majority in a GOP primary; currently, all it takes is a plurality to win a GOP primary in the Show Me State.

The apparent objective here? To make it much more difficult for former Gov. (and scandal-plagued) Eric Greitens to win the Republican primary for the state’s open Senate seat in 2022.

This move in Missouri follows what we already saw take place in Virginia — with the state party holding a confusing and convoluted convention instead of a primary, all in a seeming effort to make it harder for the “Trump in heels” Amanda Chase to win the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination.

And it worked. Chase, who might have won a plurality in a primary race, finished third in the drive-through/ranked-choice/weighted-by-locality convention, and outsider Glenn Youngkin won the nomination.

Two things can be true at the same time: One, the GOP is still Trump’s party. And two, Republicans realize that candidates with baggage like Trump can be liabilities for the party.

But also don’t be surprised that when you build a party in Trump’s image, you wind up with more Eric Greitenses and Amanda Chases running for statewide office.

Trump’s real power

That Trump can still dominate his party after losing in 2020, but that the same party is working to prevent future Trumps from winning statewide nominations confirms what NBC’s Benjy Sarlin has observed.

Trump’s real power is that he’s taken the Republican Party hostage.

“One reason is that he commands the loyalty of many base voters, who can potentially primary his opponents. But just as important, he can credibly threaten to take those voters away from the GOP entirely, dragging down Republicans of all stripes,” Sarlin recently wrote.

As Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. put it: “If you tried to run [Trump] out of the party, he’d take half the party with him.”

That’s his real power — something that Greitens and Chase don’t command.

Replacing Liz Cheney

Beginning at 8:30 a.m. ET this morning, House Republicans will gather to elect a new chair of the GOP conference, the third-highest Republican in House leadership, replacing Liz Cheney.

Per NBC’s Capitol Hill team, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., is expected to win this contest, but she does have an opponent in Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, who launched his bid Thursday to challenge Stefanik.

Today’s vote could be a voice vote or a secret ballot, NBC’s Capitol Hill team adds; it all depends on what members demand in the room.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

33,013,859: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 38,935 more than yesterday morning.)

588,486: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 761 more than yesterday morning.)

339,165,445: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

33 percent: The share of Americans who are fully vaccinated.

8: The number of New York Yankees players and staff who tested positive for Covid-19 despite being fully vaccinated.

Tweet of the day

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The New York Times reports Project Veritas or related operatives organized sting operations against FBI officials and people like former national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says he will pardon Floridians who ran afoul of local mask and distancing ordinances.

Colonial Pipeline paid the ransomware hackers $5 million.

Rep. Matt Gaetz’s associate is expected to plead guilty in the case that led to a sex-trafficking investigation into the congressman.

New York City Democrats debated last night in the city’s mayoral primary.

And the Wall Street Journal profiles Sen. Tim Scott amid the congressional negotiations on police reform.

CLARIFICATION (May 16, 2021, 1:08 p.m.): This story has been updated to clarify how The New York Times described the role of Project Veritas in a sting operation against former national security adviser H.R. McMaster. The Times said that it was not clear whether Project Veritas directed the plot but that several related operatives were involved in it.