The next four years are important. The Democrats, through Joe Biden, described the election as a battle for the soul of the Nation. His reasoning was erroneous, false, and slanderous and based upon the alleged “very fine people” line in the wake of the Charlottesville incident. Trump’s 2016 win caused upheaval in the party as it transformed from the defender of democracy abroad through the use of endless military adventures, and became the champion of blue collar working class people.
But there is a battle emerging within the Republican Party as they must start now to coalesce around the future. There are likely three groups to emerge. There will always be a segment of the party which will desire that the GOP revert to “normalcy.” This will writer will call them the GOP “normies.” These are the pre-Trump Republicans. They are the ones still stuck in the policy space of previous Republicans like Bush, McCain and Romney. They are the ones who have, at times, embraced Trump and at other times bucked or criticized Trump. This is a group who wants to restore what they view as “normal Republican” policies and goals: free trade, cutting taxes, and likely foreign adventurism when the opportunity presents itself.
One could ask: Are these the NeverTrump Republicans, the writers on the pages of The Bulwark, or members of the Lincoln Project? Some of them may be, but for the most part, they aren’t. Those people showed their true colors in 2020 and should never, ever have a say in Republican politics ever again. However, the others within this group are somewhat misguided in strategy in that they would rather revel in principles than electoral victory. One suspects that Mitt Romney will emerge as the ultimate leader of this wing of the party. They will be beholden to the “experts” and pundit class.
A second group likely to emerge will be a group this writer calls the “Trump light” group. While adopting and agreeing with the bulk of Trump’s policies and programs and underlying “America First” philosophy, they are the politically astute, non-bombastic carriers of Trump’s torch. Unlike the gaggle of old farts the Democrats threw out there in 2020, this group is young, election-tested, and educated. They are people like Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, and Tom Cotton. One can throw in Mike Lee, a holdover Libertarian-leaning beneficiary of the Tea Party movement.
Priorities may differ among them, but they likely support regulating big tech companies, have an animus towards Chinese economic expansion, want to avoid foreign wars, and want to invest in domestic communities and businesses.
The final group that will emerge will be the Trump on Steroids group. This will consist of those who openly embrace all of Donald Trump in style, substance, policy and bombast. It is people like Ron DeSantis or former Maine Governor Paul LePage. Doug Collins is perhaps another person. There is one problem with this group: there is only one Donald Trump.
It is the Trump-Lite group which is likely to emerge the most prominent. Ronald Reagan was the last Republican President to leave a lasting philosophical impression upon the party. Reaganism managed to weave equal opportunity and protection of property into a guiding Republican principle. In some respects, Trumpism mirrors it- elevating the working class and their communities through job production and crime reduction, while protecting property by allowing businesses to run their affairs with minimal government intervention or regulation. Until the coronavirus hit, it was a recipe for success.
Some pundits believe that the GOP has to get away from the economic populism of Trump and pivot from Reaganism per se. The world is considerably different, they argue, than 1980 or 1984. The world may certainly be different, but the aspirations of Americans remain constant. Trump tapped into those aspirations like no one, other than Reagan. Their styles were what set them apart.
Steve Bannon expressed it best to the Guardian four years ago: Trump transitioned the Republicans into a working class party. Gone was the power of the elites, talking heads, and those who rubbed elbows with the “opposition” at tony cocktail parties in Georgetown and New York City. Despite what Trump accomplishes policy-wise, there will continue to be frustration among the electorate. Trump tapped into these frustrations. The 2020 election simply exasperated those frustrations. Look at any electoral map by county and there is a huge sea of red.
His legacy will not be legislative. There will be no continuous 2,000-mile-long wall or repeal-and-replace of Obamacare. Instead, his legacy will be the transitioning of the Party as described by Bannon. Hence, even if one of the pre-Trump Republicans manages to win the nomination in 2024, they will have to face this realization and adopt a populist stance. Trump spoke the language of the long-neglected working class- a very large group that loves this country and aspires to live out the American Dream, not destroy it through socialism or socialist policies and programs disguised as something else.
There is a very real reason people dislike Obamacare. There is a reason people oppose long, costly military adventurism and nation-building abroad. There is a reason people largely oppose illegal immigration and violent protests in the streets. What the Democrat Party represents is the complete opposite of what people oppose.
Oren Cass of American Compass likened Trump in 2016 to an earthquake. For example, an earthquake can destroy old buildings and make room for something better. But, an earthquake cannot rebuild, he said.
With all due respect, Cass is wrong. Trump was not only the earthquake, but the planner of the rebuilding. In some respects, he actually rebuilt best exemplified by his judicial appointments. The earthquake further brought to the fore the design flaws in the opposition- the Democrats. Their open embrace of socialist policies and their inability to call out Leftist violence by name, even denying their existence (Nadler claims antifa does not exist; Biden claims it is an “ideology”) exposed their stealth attempts to move the country towards socialism. The earthquake brought the battle for the soul of the Nation to a head.
Equally important, the earthquake exposed the flaws within the Republican Party. The losers hellbent on more losses in the name of “principles,” which ironically seem discarded because of their hatred of Trump, were exposed as useless grifters who attached their names to the GOP and conservatism. It may have bought them an appearance on a CNN or MSNBC panel, but little else. Trump will go down as one of the most conservative Presidents in history. More so than tax cuts for workers and businesses, Trump’s deregulatory policies spurred an economic renaissance with record low unemployment figures across all demographic groups.
Is it any wonder the Democrats seem to revel in the resulting recession in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic? Absent that event, 2020 would have been a slam dunk for Trump. In the end, the only thing Democrats have to offer is face masks and reversion to the Obama years which were rejected in 2016.
Trumpism- whatever it is- will survive Trump. The earthquake thankfully destroyed the old power structure of the GOP. There are still a few ugly, weak buildings standing. The question is whether the next wave of tremors will allow them to stand or destroy them.