The retribution has been swift and severe. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who heretically placed his oath of office before his higher duty to defend President Trump, is now taking brutal incoming from all corners, including GOP elected officials and leading figures in Trump’s propaganda network.

This enforcement of loyalty will also have an important purpose going forward, in ways that might not at first be apparent.

If you want to see how Trump’s propagandists will continue enforcing the cult of loyalty to Trump, watch the viral video that Trump tweeted on Wednesday night. It’s a remarkable statement that exposes Trumpism’s ugly core.

Many attacks on Romney have been built on the simple premise that Romney is a loser, and Trump is a winner. As the White House press secretary suggested, Romney, who gave a powerful speech explaining his vote to convict Trump for abuse of power, was driven by bitterness, as a “failed Republican presidential candidate.”

But there’s a darker undercurrent to this trope, one displayed in the video Trump tweeted. Watch the whole thing:

Note the invocation of gloom that Republicans felt after losing to Barack Obama. The imagery of the industrial Midwestern states that Romney lost in 2012 is featured to highlight Trump’s success in shattering that “blue wall."

Also note the footage of Republicans despairing under a cloud of defeat, which is then contrasted with the delirium they felt in 2016.

Trump campaigned heavily on the idea that the Obama presidency was a form of national humiliation. Everything was about how “we” are “losing” on every front — we’re getting ripped off by other countries; immigrants are scamming their way in to steal Americans’ jobs; the industrial Midwestern and Appalachian heartlands are graveyards of carnage.

Trump won the GOP primary in part because he campaigned on the idea that Obama himself was humiliating the country by occupying the Oval Office as an impostor, the central subplot of the “birther” conspiracy that Trump promoted for years.

When Trump awarded Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he surely did so in part due to Limbaugh’s history of pushing this birtherism. In hailing Limbaugh’s “tireless devotion to our country,” Trump plainly meant his attention to the parts of Trump’s America that were receptive to this message — laying the groundwork for Trump to run as the answer to this Obama-era humiliation, as its redeemer.

Romney lost to Obama. Trump redeemed this humiliation. Are you with the team that made you feel like a loser or like a winner?

Any Republican who expresses concerns about Trump’s corruption and lawlessness, and even his active wielding of the government to cheat his way through the next election, should get over such qualms and feel like a winner instead.

Beyond this message, though, is the larger one that the treatment of Romney sends: It telegraphs what awaits any Republicans who get queasy about any future revelations of Trump’s misconduct. And there will be more such revelations.

What’s coming next

Former national security adviser John Bolton’s forthcoming book will detail that Trump personally discussed his withholding of nearly $400 million in military aid to extort Ukraine into launching a sham investigation designed to smear potential 2020 opponent Joe Biden.

Meanwhile, there’s another ticking time bomb: The National Security Agency, or NSA, may have withheld from the House information that would have been directly relevant to the conduct for which Trump was impeached.

In an important interview with Rachel Maddow, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the leader of the House impeachment managers, noted that the NSA did withhold information, requested by the House, that was directly relevant to the Ukraine scandal.

“It was information that was pertinent to the case, that they should have had to make their determination,” Schiff said, adding that after “instructions” from “up above,” the information was “withheld.”

We don’t know much about this. But we might soon.

Ned Price, a former CIA and National Security Council official, told me one plausible scenario is that this information comprised intercepted conversations among Ukrainian officials about Trump’s shakedown.

In this telling, House Democrats sought this information to shed light on how the Ukrainians saw Trump’s withholding of military aid. That could show Ukrainians felt pressure from the withheld aid as Trump’s ringleaders demanded the statement smearing Biden — which would undercut a key Trump talking point — or that they understood a direct link between the two, Price said.

“This would have been very pertinent information,” Price told me.

Price noted it’s likely the White House counsel — who led Trump’s impeachment defense — could have instructed NSA officials not to cooperate with House demands.

“By law, the NSA is required to provide pertinent information to congressional overseers,” Price told me. “Blocking that would require a deliberate intervention from the White House.”

To be clear, we don’t know what happened here. But as Price told me, though it’s unlikely the NSA will cough up this information, dogged investigative reporting might — and might also establish how it was covered up.

This would be damning. If this happens, or if Bolton’s book is as incriminating as advertised, GOP senators would be pressed to revisit their refusal during Trump’s impeachment trial to hear from Bolton — and their refusal to seek the sort of evidence the NSA apparently withheld.

Any misgivings — or any criticism of Trump — will complicate Trump’s reelection efforts to keep his smear of Biden going, because they would highlight the corrupt core of that smear.

So the brutalization of Romney is also about telegraphing what awaits Republicans who express any such misgivings.

At the core of Trumpism is the idea that any qualms about doing what it takes to win — no matter how corrupt — are for losers who deserve the savage Romney treatment we’re now witnessing.

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