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Trump undoubtedly controls the GOP, but the TikTok vote shows Republicans won't always follow him in lockstep

Brent D. Griffiths   

Trump undoubtedly controls the GOP, but the TikTok vote shows Republicans won't always follow him in lockstep
  • House Republicans and Democrats overwhelming voted in favor of a bill that could ban TikTok.
  • Trump has reversed his position on banning the popular social media app.

Former President Donald Trump has an iron grip on the Republican Party.

On Tuesday evening, Trump won the necessary number of delegates to become the GOP's presumptive nominee; his third straight nomination. His latest victory came during a virtually unprecedented time for a party that technically lacked an incumbent. If the speed of his win wasn't a clear enough sign of his dominance, Trump and his allies recently installed his daughter-in-law Lara Trump in a top Republican National Committee post.

Despite all of his power, Trump's hold isn't absolute. Wednesday's House vote on a bill that could lead to a ban on TikTok illustrates that dynamic. The final vote was 352 to 65, easily surpassing the two-thirds threshold that allowed the legislation to be considered on an accelerated timeline. Even Republican House lawmakers, the group that is arguably the most pro-Trump in Congress, defied their de facto leader, who now opposes the bill.

Trump also shoulders most of the blame for the TikTok outcome. His administration began the push to force the popular social media app to distance itself from ByteDance, its Beijing-based parent company. TikTok fought off their efforts in federal courts. Both Trump and now Biden administration officials cited national security concerns about ByteDance's ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

The bipartisan tension over the app never fully subsided. It was only within the last week that Trump backed away from his record, a decision that came shortly after the former president met with Jeff Yass, a billionaire donor, who holds a major stake in ByteDance. The whole thing appears to be very, well, swampy. (Trump told CNBC that he and Yass did not discuss TikTok.)

Trump has expressed fear that a ban could benefit TikTok's competitors.

"Frankly, there are a lot of people on TikTok that love it," Trump told CNBC on Monday. "There are a lot of young kids on TikTok who will go crazy without it. There are a lot of users. There's a lot of good and there's a lot of bad with TikTok. But the thing I don't like is that without TikTok, you can make Facebook bigger and I consider Facebook to be an enemy of the people along with a lot of the media."

Congressional Republicans have defied Trump before.

Earlier this year, Trump was able to nuke House Majority Whip Tom Emmer's speakership bid, but he could not install House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan atop the conference. Trump has repeatedly pushed for Republicans to impeach President Joe Biden. Still, even though some conservatives admit there may never be enough support to force the issue on the House floor. It remains to be seen what, if any, role the former president will try to flex in replacing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the GOP leader who has defied Trump the most even if there's little contest for such a title.

Even Republican voters have at times defied Trump. The former president's endorsement can still effectively end most Republican primaries, but the 2022 midterm cycle left him with more losses too.

Next week's Ohio GOP Senate primary will test this thesis once again as Trump is aligned against Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and former US Senator Rob Portman in the race to determine who will take on Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, in one of the most closely watched races this November.

These moments of defiance should not be taken as a broader trend. Trump has largely purged the GOP of the more establishment-minded voices that questioned his rise and undermined parts of his presidency. The former president has been especially effective in his targeted campaign against the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him for inciting the insurrection.

Trumpism is very much the dominant thread in the GOP's immediate future. But Trump's power is not as total as he might wish it would be.

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