This week's Republican primary in Ohio's congressional special election was a relatively crowded affair. Given the partisan leanings of the state's 15th district, locals realized that the winner of the GOP nomination would inevitably end up in Congress, and so plenty of candidates competed for the prize.
Not surprisingly, with nearly a dozen Republicans on the ballot, different candidates lined up support from different allies: Donald Trump backed former coal lobbyist Mike Carey; former Rep. Steve Stivers supported state Rep. Jeff LaRe; Sen. Rand Paul rallied behind state Rep. Ron Hood; while Debbie Meadows, a conservative activist who's married to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, stood behind local church leader Ruth Edmonds.
At first blush, this wouldn't have seemed especially notable. But just below the surface, there was a problem: Donald Trump didn't want different GOP leaders endorsing different candidates; he wanted everyone to ignore their preferences and support his chosen candidate -- because he said so.
Politico reported a few weeks ago that Team Trump saw the intra-party diversity of thought as an example of "disloyalty."
The same article quoted former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski saying, "Organizations that endorse candidates against the president's endorsement do so at their own peril." He added, "[I]t will be remembered."
Evidently, he wasn't kidding. The former president issued a written statement yesterday, not only celebrating the fact that his candidate prevailed, but also calling out Rand Paul by name for daring to back his own candidate in a Republican special-election primary.
"Do you think Rand Paul will apologize for spending nearly $1 Million on another candidate in Ohio's 15th District congressional race after I had already endorsed Mike Carey? ... Rand's candidate came in a distant third out of eleven. Rand is a different kind of guy.... Do you think he learned his lesson?"
Trump didn't specify what "lesson" the Kentucky senator is supposed to have learned, but there's no great mystery here.
It's not enough to be loyal to Trump; the failed former president also expects Republicans to be loyal to those who are loyal to Trump. He gets to pick the candidates; his endorsement must be paramount; his preferences must be honored above others'. The job of other Republicans is to smile, nod, and do what the former president says they should do.
Trump's authoritarian instincts in governing are well known, but no one should forget that he brings a similar style to his role as the effective head of the contemporary Republican Party.