Donald Trump needs you to know that Republican candidates don’t just like him, they love him. And they need him. Badly.
At a rally on Saturday night for Ohio GOP Senate nominee J.D. Vance, Trump made sure the crowd knew that Vance was subservient to him – big time.
“J.D. is kissing my ass he wants my support so bad,” Trump said.
Trump was reacting to a New York Times story that reported Vance had not actually invited Trump to campaign with him in the state. Instead, Trump’s team had simply told Vance that they would be coming to Ohio for a rally.
Trump’s campaign stops have always been, primarily, about Trump. You can tell that by the amount of time he spends talking about himself (a lot) versus how much time he spends talking about the candidate for whom he is ostensibly campaigning (very little).
But he has rarely thrown a candidate he endorsed so directly under the bus as he did Vance over the weekend. “He made J.D. Vance look like a mouse, not a man,” former Virginia Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock told CNN of the moment. “It was humiliating.”
Comstock is right. It’s hard to see Trump’s characterization of Vance as little more than a lackey benefiting him in his surprisingly competitive race against Democrat Tim Ryan this fall. Even for those voters who like Trump, the portrayal of Vance as little more than a lickspittle isn’t terribly appealing.
But that’s not what Trump cares about. Not really.
Sure, he visited Ohio to campaign for Vance – at least on the surface. But what Trump is really doing is burnishing his own brand – and basking in the adulation of his most dogged supporters. To quote Trump from more than three decades ago: “The show is Trump, and it is sold-out performances everywhere.”
That’s what you always have to remember when you are trying to understand the strategy or motivation behind something Trump does. Trump is all about Trump – first, last and forever.
And so, the most important thing Trump wanted to get across to those in attendance in Ohio over the weekend is not why they should vote for Vance. It’s that he remains uber-popular among Republicans and that every GOP candidate – Vance included – is desperate to have his endorsement.
That such an argument is belittling to Vance and makes him look both small and desperate is of no concern for Trump. The key (and only) concern is how does it make Trump look – strong, powerful and still very much coveted.
That’s all that matters.