Now that the Republicans have officially lost the presidency and the U.S. Senate, a big question making the rounds is: “What will the post-Trump Republican Party look like?”
I see five possible ways it might all play out:
Trump 2: Keep America Greaterer Again!
The question itself is inherently faulty, because it assumes Donald Trump is going to retire from politics. There is no immediate evidence that he will.
Even when he leaves the Oval Office eleven days from now, the GOP is still very much his party if he wants it to be. In one of those “even a broken clock is right twice a day” moments, Donald Trump Jr. said at the rally against certifying the Electoral College vote on January 6: “This isn’t their Republican Party anymore. This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party!” Where’s the lie?
The only problem with Don Jr.’s statement is what happened immediately afterwards: the big riot/insurrection/melee that broke out at the Capitol. Or as I call it, “the craziest thing I’ve seen on live television since 9/11.” This greatly hurts not only his father’s legacy as president (which was already pretty hinky), but his chances of running and winning again.
As it stands, President Trump is already the oldest person elected president, besting Ronald Reagan by almost a year. If Trump decides to run again in 2024 and wins, he would smash that record at seventy-eight years old at his second inauguration day. Geritol smoothies for everyone! Make my gin & prune juice a double.
There are a lot of questions about what a seventy-eight year old President Trump in a split second term would be like. Questions already abound regarding his mental faculties and temperament, things that never get better with age. Unless maybe you’re Jimmy Carter.
But a second term can’t be completely ruled out. He has a lot of energy for a senior citizen, a metric shit ton of rage, and an infinite number of axes to grind. He may spend the next four years essentially running another campaign. And even after the Capitol meltdown, he still has plenty of fans who think that what went down was just hunky dory. The people that like Trump really, really like him.
Even if Citizen Trump decides to shuffle off into the political sunset, his impact on the party is indelible and his ability to play kingmaker will be hard for him to resist. His Twitter account won’t be around anymore, but one has to figure he’ll find other ways to vent. And baby, he’s gonna have a whole lot of time to vent.
Keeping it in the family
The next worst option is anyone else with the last name of “Trump.” Handing the party over to Donald Jr., Ivanka, Eric, or (God forbid) Tiffany would smack of monarchism. Not to mention that no one really knows the politics of any of those people, other than they all get along with their father pretty well.
Okay, so forget Tiffany.
The GOP goes Trumpist, but without Trump
“Trumpism” is hard to define outside of simply whatever Trump happens to believe or what is best for him at any given moment. As implied in the name, Trumpism is inherently Trump-centric. Much like Trump.
In my view, if there is a coherent political philosophy that resembles Trumpism, it’s paleoconservatism. Even if you don’t know what that is, you know some of the adherents: Pat Buchanan, the late Joseph Sobran, the late Ross Perot, and such. It’s mainstream social conservatism mixed with nationalism, populism, Judeo-Christian apologetics, isolationism, and protectionist trade policies. Think, the Constitution Party. No heavy hitters in the current Republican party really fit that mold, except maybe Tom Cotton.
Smarmy ladder-climbing mega-ass kisser Josh Hawley was obviously willing to debase himself to appeal to Trumplodytes. However, you could almost hear the sound of Hawley’s long term prospects detonating after Wednesday’s disaster. (And what a sweet sound it was.) If you take a deep breath, you can almost smell his ongoing immolation.
The GOP goes back to “traditional” conservatives
There are a number of conservatives who might be appealing in 2024, chief among them Vice President Pence, assuming he stays on Trump’s good side after the events of the last several days. Sen. Ted Cruz has a lot of appeal in conservative circles and has become a major Trump sycophant.
The problem with mainstream conservatives is that they often don’t really excite anyone. Say what you will about the Ol’ Trumpler, he gets people revved up. Even if it’s often for the wrong reasons.
The GOP goes libertarian (don’t hold your breath)
From the libertarian perspective, Sen. Rand Paul has some appeal for another presidential run in 2024. He didn’t get much traction in 2016, however, and also somehow managed to become a bit of a Trump ball washer in recent years. Mike Lee is possibly an intriguing option.
I occasionally have wild fantasies about the Republican Party openly inviting libertarians into the fold, or an LP/GOP merger, but that’s likely a non-starter. Especially with Trump at the top of the GOP, either de facto or de jure.
GOP national vs. GOP state/local
From a bigger picture perspective, American demographics have been trending against Republicans for years. As America becomes less white, less Christian, less heterosexual, less English speaking, and so forth, it’s harder for the GOP to cobble together 270 electoral votes and win a presidential election. Part of Trump’s appeal, such as it was, is that his paleoconservative leanings made some headway in the Rust Belt when prior GOP candidates had struggled there.
I sometimes think of the president as a real life version of The Mule, a character from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels. Put simply, The Mule was a freakish glitch in the galactic matrix that couldn’t be foreseen and wasn’t supposed to happen. But happen he did, and the consequences threw everything wildly off course.
Trump was only able to pull the “Mule” thing off once, however. And the Rust Belt that helped elect him in 2016 will lose electoral votes after the 2020 census is released and congressional re-apportionment occurs. Sun belt states will gain votes, but how is that looking now with Arizona and Georgia voting blue in 2020? Not to mention Texas becoming rather purple, which is the worst Republican nightmare. If/when Texas turns blue, Republicans are going to be hard pressed to elect another president, no matter how much ass they kick in flyover country and the Rust Belt.
But no matter how strong one party gets, America likes to have a backup plan. If the Democrats could recover from being on the losing side of the Civil War and the Republicans could survive the Great Depression and FDR, anything is possible. As one state gets a little more red, another gets a little more blue, and vice versa. Such ebb and flow of power is the way of the nation. Don’t forget that a hundred years ago Democrats were (largely) the conservatives and Republicans were (largely) the liberals. Weird shit happens.
2016 was lightning in a bottle for Republicans; 2020 was more of a return to form. 2024 is likely to be worse. And whatever the future holds for the party of Lincoln, it is unlikely to be libertarian.
The GOP is hardly in bad shape, at least on the state and local level. They still control thirty state legislatures and twenty-seven governorships. They also still own exactly one half of the U.S. Senate and are still well within striking distance of control of the U.S. House with 211 seats.
The best way to fix that party may be just to sit back and let the Democrats fuck everything up, which they inevitably will. Then the pendulum will swing back as it always does.