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Donald Trump wins Missouri Republican caucus, demonstrating continued grip over party

Former President Donald Trump won Missouri’s Republican caucus on Saturday, reaffirming his tight grip over the party as he marches toward the nomination amid numerous criminal charges.

Trump’s victory underscored how thoroughly he has re-centered the Republican Party around himself, both in Missouri and across the country, since he launched his first presidential campaign nearly nine years ago.

No prominent current elected Missouri Republican spoke against Trump ahead of Saturday and his dominance of the caucus was expected. Trump’s only remaining major competitor, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, has virtually no chance of winning the nomination barring a major, unexpected development.

The Associated Press called the Missouri GOP caucus for Trump at 11:40 a.m., a little less than two hours after caucus gatherings began across the state. Full results weren’t immediately available.

The Missouri caucus on Saturday, which took place alongside the Idaho caucus and a Michigan statewide convention, came ahead of a slew of contests this coming Tuesday, called Super Tuesday, when 15 states will hold caucuses and primary elections. Those contests are expected to further cement Trump’s frontrunner status.

Neither Trump nor Haley spent time campaigning in Missouri, but the Trump campaign on Wednesday rolled out dozens of Missouri endorsements, including Gov. Mike Parson and all three major GOP candidates for governor.

The criminal cases against Trump have only seemed to boost his standing among conservative Republicans, including in Missouri, even as they threaten to undercut his standing among moderates and independent voters in November. In recent weeks, Haley has grown increasingly direct in her criticism of Trump but hasn’t managed to win any contests.

Trump faces two federal criminal cases brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith – one over his alleged hoarding of classified documents after leaving office and another over his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the lead up to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. He also faces state criminal charges in Georgia over his actions in the 2020 election.

The first criminal case against Trump, brought by prosecutors in New York, accuses him of illegally concealing hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. That case could go to trial in a matter of weeks and has taken on more significance as it appears more likely it may be the only trial Trump faces before the November election.

Trump’s criminal cases don’t appear to have dented his support among the Republican base.

“I think he relates to Missourians,” said state Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican who is running for Missouri secretary of state.

“He’s conservative and he can relate to what Missourians want,’ Hoskins said. “And that’s basically to keep a small, limited government – tax cuts, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment.”

Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, one of the few prominent Missouri Republicans to vocally oppose Trump, said two versions of the Republican Party exist – the historic version of the party and the Trumpian version – and that they are incompatible with each other.

“I think there are a lot of people who would view themselves as historic Republicans if faced with a clear presentation of the differences,” Danforth said.

As of August, Trump had the support of 52% of likely Missouri voters who said they wouldn’t vote for President Joe Biden, according to polling conducted by Saint Louis University and YouGov. In the same poll, half of all voters said they would vote for an unnamed Republican over Biden.

Trump won both the 2016 and 2020 general elections in Missouri with 56.8% of the vote, though he received 124,225 more votes in 2020. But in the 2016 presidential primary, Trump only barely beat Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Saturday marked the first presidential caucus in Missouri since 2012. Typically, the state holds a primary election but lawmakers removed funding in 2022.

Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, said the results likely don’t reveal too much about Trump’s broader standing in the state.

While Missouri doesn’t have party registration, allowing any registered voter to participate in the caucus, the party required participants to sign a loyalty pledge declaring themselves a “strong and faithful” Republican voter.

“You’re going to have only the most committed Republicans participating and I think those are the people who are the most invested at this point in trying to see Trump get the nomination,” Squire said.