But the Republican Party that takes over Washington as Trump assumes the presidency is not one the Priebus of a few years ago might have recognized. Trump won the GOP primary, and then the general election, on a populist-nationalist platform that upended much of the party’s conservative dogma. Many Republican elders abandoned him, offended in principle and sure he could not win. They got their comeuppance on Election Night.
In the weeks since, Trump has moved on every level to demonstrate his dominance: over the party organization, over Republicans in Congress, over the press and the public arena. Not for him to compromise, to accommodate, to forgive. He enters the White House as determined as ever to divide and conquer, to punish his enemies, to do things his way and sideline the enforcers of the old order.
Trump entered the Republican Party as an interloper; now, he pulls its strings. To replace Priebus at the helm of the party, Trump picked the chairwoman of the Michigan GOP, Ronna Romney McDaniel, whose uncle, Mitt Romney, had implacably opposed Trump to the end of the campaign.
But McDaniel proved her loyalty. In mid-October, when Trump’s fortunes were at their nadir—after the debates, after the Access Hollywood tape, when even Priebus was suggesting Trump might have to quit the race, and pundits were saying Republicans would lose the Senate and maybe the House—Wendy Day, a vice chairwoman of the Michigan GOP, joined the chorus of Republicans proclaiming they could not support Trump. McDaniel used her power as chairwoman to eject Day from her post.
Trump ended up winning Michigan by a quarter of a percentage point, the narrowest margin of any state. On Thursday, as McDaniel was nominated to lead the party, her purging of Day was lauded from the stage: she showed “courage,” said Susan Hutchison, chair of the Washington state GOP, with her “quick decision to improve the situation in her state when someone was going rogue.” The RNC vote to make McDaniel party chair was unanimous.
The party also has a co-chair, a secondary position that must be occupied by someone of the opposite sex of the chair. This, too, was a demonstration of Trump’s control: It went to Bob Paduchik, who had led Trump’s campaign in Ohio.
Paduchik spent 2016 locked in a struggle with his state’s Republican governor, John Kasich, who opposed Trump to the end. The Ohio party apparatus loyal to Kasich held Trump at arm’s length. But even so, Trump won the state by 8 points. And earlier this month, Trump personally telephoned Ohio central committee members to get the Kasich-loyal state chairman, Matt Borges, voted out, and a Trump supporter, Jane Timken, named to the job.
That the president-elect would spend his time strong-arming state party activists—and do so publicly—sent shockwaves through what was left of the Republican establishment, putting them on notice that Trump and his people were watching closely and would brook no dissent. “That was the first indication that he was willing to be personally involved in state party politics,” Mike Duncan, a former RNC chairman and 25-year committee veteran, told me, calling the overtness of it “unprecedented.”