US midterm elections 2018

‘Nothing but trouble!’ Republican Party learns to fear Donald Trump as he sinks critics with inflammatory tweets

Trump critic Mark Sanford lost his primary election in South Carolina hours after the president tweeted that he was ‘very unhelpful’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 1:35am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 5:20am

Do not cross US President Donald Trump. That is the lesson being learned by Republicans after a Trump critic, Representative Mark Sanford, lost his primary election in South Carolina hours after the president tweeted that his fellow Republican was “very unhelpful”.

It is a cautionary tale for Republicans in Congress as they try to win elections by showing loyalty to Trump supporters while also maintaining some independence as members of a coequal branch of government.

One wrong turn – or in Sanford’s case, many – and they could endure the wrath of a president who is quick to attack detractors as enemies, even those from his own party. A single presidential tweet can doom a career.

Sanford is the second incumbent House Republican to lose a primary this year – and the latest victim of intense divisions among the Republican Party in the Trump era.

The president took a victory lap on Twitter early Wednesday, touting his success in ousting a foe and reinforcing, once again, that the Republican Party is Trump’s party now.

“My political representatives didn’t want me to get involved in the Mark Sanford primary thinking that Sanford would easily win – but with a few hours left I felt that Katie was such a good candidate, and Sanford was so bad, I had to give it a shot. Congrats to Katie Arrington!” the president said on Twitter.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan downplayed the rift Wednesday and said there were always going to be winners and losers during primary season.

“This happens,” said Ryan, who is not seeking re-election. “That’s just what happens in contested primaries.”

Others, though, said it is an up-close example of how not to publicly criticise the president over differences.

One Trump ally, Representative Chris Collins of New York, offered advice to fellow Republican lawmakers: say something nice to the president before you bring him your complaints.

“I would start by praising the president – what he’s doing in North Korea, what he’s done on tax reform, what he’s done with the Supreme Court … and then say, ‘But here’s an issue in my local area where I have some disagreement or I’d like to be something different’,” Collins said.

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He said talking to Trump should be like interacting with your spouse or children when you have a problem that needs addressing. Start with niceties before bringing up the trouble spots, “as opposed to just coming out with smashmouth football.”

House Republicans otherwise were upbeat Wednesday after primary elections in several states as they met behind closed doors to discuss the November midterms.

“It’s not like people live in fear of the White House,” said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a veteran Republican Party strategist. “You have to handle all your differences with anybody professionally and hope for the best.”