There have been barrels of ink and billions of pixels devoted to why Donald Trump has a cult-like hold on his followers. Somewhat less attention has been devoted to why Republican officeholders have never called him out, especially in light of the revelation in the upcoming book by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) that Republican senators mocked him in private as unhinged and crazy. The usual short answer is that they are cowards, afraid of his retribution if they go after him.
Jonathan Last, over at The Bulwark, has a slightly different take on this. He goes back to Frank Herbert's science fiction book Dune to illustrate what is going on. In Dune, set 10,000 years in the future, long after faster-than-light travel becomes routine, an advanced empire controls a planet that has the galaxy's only supply of "spice," the key ingredient needed for interstellar travel. The indigenous people use spice only for their quasi-religious ceremonies. How did those people fend off their infinitely more powerful oppressors? They found a leader who threatened to destroy all the spice. Their leader said: "The power to destroy a thing is the absolute control over it."
Donald Trump controls the Republican Party because he threatens to destroy it. He owns maybe 30, 40, 50 percent of the Republican voters. If he formed a new party and told his people to vote only for him and not Republican candidates downballot, they would do it. If he didn't form his own party (or couldn't get on the ballot) and told his people to go fishing on Nov. 5, 2024, they would do it. That would destroy the Republican Party. He has the power to destroy the Party and is not afraid to do it. He cares not a whit about the institutional Republican Party and would not hesitate to destroy it as revenge for failure to obey him. The Republican senators, who do care about the Republican Party, but who mock Trump privately, know this and know he has them by the [insert body part here]. That's why they won't challenge him. They don't want him to destroy the spice.
The Republican Party needs Trump because he is the glue that holds it together. Evangelicals are not especially interested in Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) because he is a generic Italian Catholic and not born-again, and big business types certainly don't like him because he rails against big business. A lot of Republican men don't like powerful women, so there goes Nikki Haley. Vivek Ramaswamy might be acceptable to the billionaire class but probably not to the anti-immigrant class (even though his parents were the immigrants, not the candidate). Evangelicals like Mike Pence, but nobody else does. No, Trump is the glue that holds the Party together so they need him. The leader of the indigenous people in Dune said: "Need is weakness."
So the fundamental truth that Paul Ryan, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and the rest intuitively understood is that they care a lot about the Republican Party as an institution and Trump doesn't give a rat's a*s about it. If he has to destroy it, so be it. He'd then just move on to the next grift. What the Party leaders should have done in 2016 is gather around Jeb! as long as possible and when he was finally gone, tell people to vote for Hillary at the top of the ticket but Republicans everywhere else, in order to destroy the Orange Menace before he could destroy them.
Tucker Carlson also understood all of the above. He once said to a colleague at Fox News: "What [Trump's] good at is destroying things. He's the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong." That gave Trump more power over Fox than Fox had power over him.
Last, who is at heart a conservative Republican, hates Trump because he is not. In fact, Trump is not a Republican at all. He just uses the Party to help him with his grift. Last's prescription of saving the Republican Party is for Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), along with Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Paul Ryan, Jim Mattis, Charlie Baker, Larry Hogan, Chris Sununu, and other actual Republicans, to vigorously support Joe Biden so that Trump is crushed like a bug. Then again in 2028 if need be, until he is gone and hopefully in prison. Then the Republican Party can rise from its ashes, like the Phoenix. But it won't happen. (V)