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One year after Jan. 6, Trump's grip on the GOP has grown stronger. Here's why

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.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference on July 11, 2021, in Dallas.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference on July 11, 2021, in Dallas.Brandon Bell / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Wednesday ... A new analysis shows Democrats are doing better than expected in redistricting — but that it probably won’t be enough to save the House. ... John Fetterman hauled in $2.7 million in the 4th quarter for his Pennsylvania Senate bid. ... Michael Steele is a no-go for Maryland governor. ... And why climate could determine Build Back Better’s fate.

But first: Ahead of tomorrow’s Jan. 6 anniversary, one of the most important political stories over the last year has been Donald Trump’s growing sway over the Republican Party after the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

How did a one-term president (joining the likes of Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush) who helped cost his party control of the U.S. Senate and who later incited the Jan. 6 violence (even according to his fellow Republicans) get stronger within his party?

And not weaker?

One explanation has been his disappearance from social media and the daily news cycle, which has allowed Republican lawmakers to duck questions about his statements and latest controversies. (In fact, that’s one good theory why he canceled his news conference to mark Jan. 6. "It's helpful that Trump has decided not to use this day for hyperbolic political hits, a senior Republican Hill aide tells NBC’s Jonathan Allen.)

Another possible reason is the conservative media ecosystem, which has downplayed, ignored, whitewashed and at times defended the Jan. 6 attack. (The latest example: Fox News’ Sean Hannity didn’t address to his audience his newly released text messages expressing concern about the lead-up to Jan. 6.)

Yet another explanation is how other Republican leaders treated Trump with kid gloves — first letting him challenge the results of an election he clearly lost, then voting to acquit him in his second impeachment trial, and now accepting his endorsements.

And another is how worried fellow Republicans are that Trump could leave the GOP (and take his voters with him) if the former president doesn’t get his way.

But the simplest explanation why Trump is stronger — and not weaker — inside his party today is that Trump is the Republican Party after his four years in office.

Veteran GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio conducted a poll after Jan. 6, per the New York Times’ Jeremy Peters, which found that the most committed Republican voters were those who were still committed to Trump.

“Feelings about the former president, [Fabrizio] explained in his analysis, were so intertwined with the understanding many voters had about what it meant to be a strong Republican that ‘Trumpism and party fidelity’ were becoming one and the same,” Peters writes.

Did Trump change the Republican Party? Or did he simply reveal it?

Tweet of the day

Talking policy with Benjy: Why climate could determine Build Back Better’s fate

The Senate is back, and you know what that means: Reporters are stalking Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and then parsing his every word for policy clues.

The headline quote from Manchin on Tuesday was that there's still “no negotiation” going on over “Build Back Better” for now (though he didn't rule out future talks) and that his position hasn’t changed. In addition to his disagreements over the bill's specifics, he's still worried about inflation and focused on other issues like Covid and foreign policy.

But for someone who’s done talking about BBB, he sure had a lot to say about key sticking points in negotiations. He reiterated that he’d like a work requirement on child tax credits. And he sounded outright bullish on a deal on climate change.

“The climate thing is one that we probably can come to an agreement much easier than anything else,” Manchin told reporters.

If the climate parts of BBB are still doable, the pressure is going to be high on Democrats to take whatever deal is on the table and soon. It’s the one issue the whole party agrees on and, by far, the easiest to sell to recalcitrant progressives as a must-pass centerpiece to a larger bill.

The big “if” of course is whether there really is a climate deal available. One reason Manchin’s statement backing out of BBB last month was so alarming to many Democrats is that it took tough shots at the bill’s climate section that echoed fossil fuel industry opposition and suggested maybe he was done with the issue altogether. This was especially shocking because he reportedly made an offer to the White House that included major climate components, along with permanent funding for Obamacare fixes and pre-school, right before pulling out of talks.

Some progressives worry he's dug in on "no" will move the goalposts if Democrat ever come too close to his demands. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., complained on “MTP Daily” that Manchin says ”different things on different days” even as she expressed confidence that they could work something out together.

But the only surefire way to test Manchin’s good faith is for Democrats to tell him they’ll take something like his most recent offer and see what he does in response. His climate comments cracked the door open a little further to that conversation.

Midterm roundup

With the GOP in control of redrawing more congressional districts, it looked like this redistricting cycle could be disastrous for Democrats. That didn’t exactly pan out, David Wasserman writes for the Cook Political Report. So far, redistricting has produced a net gain of six Democratic-leaning House seats. But Democrats already hold most of the seats that shifted in their favor, and Republicans have more pickup opportunities in new GOP-leaning seats. “The far more dramatic effect of 2022 redistricting: a rise in the number of hyper-partisan seats at the expense of competitive ones,” Wasserman writes.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D, will announce whether or not he’s running for re-election by January 9, NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports. Trump has threatened to support a primary challenger against Thune, who criticized Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election results. If Thune remains in the Senate, the GOP Senate whip could be a top candidate to replace Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell once the Senate minority leader retires.

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, the first Black RNC chairman, has decided not to run for governor, per the Baltimore Sun. Steele, a staunch Trump critic, said, “It’s not something the family wants me to do right now.”

House GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik made her first Senate endorsement on Tuesday, backing former Ohio GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken in the crowded Ohio Senate primary.

Data Download: The number of the day is … $2.7 million

That’s how much Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, D-Pa., raised in the fourth quarter of 2021 for his Senate bid, another strong haul for Fetterman in one of the most crowded Senate Democratic primaries on the map.

Fetterman has been far and away the best fundraiser in what’s become a four-way primary matchup with Rep. Conor Lamb, Montgomery County Commission Chair Val Arkoosh and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta. And through September, he had out-raised all but 11 Senate candidates across the country (including incumbents).

The Democrat has been spending big money, too — he closed the year with $5.3 million in the bank, which means he’s spent more than half of the nearly $12 million he’s raised last year. More candidates will be announcing their fourth-quarter hauls before the next FEC deadline at the end of January.

Other numbers you need to know today:

25: The number of House Democrats who won’t be running for re-election now that Michigan Rep. Brenda Lawrence has announced her retirement.

7: The number of consecutive days (as of yesterday afternoon) where the seven-day-average record for Covid cases in America has been a record high.

$1 million: The amount that conservative dark-money group One Nation is spending on ads looking to pressure West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin to stick with the filibuster.

27: The number of hours on the road it took Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., to get to the Capitol from Virginia as snow snarled travel on I-95.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The New York Times reports President Trump and his allies are planning candidate forums and other events as he looks to flex his political muscles ahead of the midterms.

Republican lawmakers up and down the ballot are taking aim at critical race theory as a top campaign and legislative issue.

While the omicron surge is stressing hospitals again, fewer patients are moving to the ICU.

New, clarified CDC isolation guidelines still don’t require people to test to end their five-day quarantine.

Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney told The Dispatch she is ruling out waging a third party bid if she loses her GOP primary because she wants to “fight for the Republican Party.”

The DNC is unionizing.