The Future of the Republican Party
Although it may seem distant, November 2020 will be here soon.
Democrats are dreaming dreams about early 2021 and considering what they will be doing if they regain the executive branch. But Republicans haven’t seemed to look that far out. Power does, naturally, blinker one’s field of vision by degree.
Yet, if Donald Trump loses the 2020 election, the Republican Party could fracture so severely, it may very well be fatal to the party as we know it.
The most prominent element of this formula is Trump’s cult of personality. He’s broken so many norms already, it should surprise none of us that he will not be a silent onlooker to the nation’s politics after leaving the White House.
Having taken over the GOP, he will not give up that prize, and will try to maintain at least that remnant of power with his Twitter megaphone.
Given that the president governed off of personality whims and not political philosophy, the party will see no clear way forward in terms of how it might lead policy-wise.
And what will moderate Republicans do when Trump mocks, advises, or swipes at others in the party via Twitter as these politicians run for reelection or for their first office?
It is possible that a new crop will try to emerge to pick up and carry the Trump philosophy, as they see it. These will naturally be inexperienced politicians because experienced ones are part of the “swamp.” More seasoned politicians will continue to be scorned by Trumpists as the “establishment.” Those experienced politicians will also be blamed for Trump’s loss, naturally because they weren’t “Trump” enough.
These rookies who seek to take up the Trump banner will hope to win with bombast, just as Trump did in 2016. But the media will have wised up by this time, and will not countenance these fools. They will not get the free publicity Trump so easily manipulated. Besides, at least the media was giving this airtime to a well-known TV star and cultural icon. The rookies will be neither, unless it’s Ted Nugent or James Woods. In desperation, the GOP might have to turn to Duck Dynasty stars for more candidates to replicate the Trump model of 2016.
Moreover, the bombast rookies of the GOP will continue to add embarrassment to the party that the moderates were hoping finally to be free from. At every noxious statement from a brash neophyte candidate, a moderate Republican will be asked by the media to repudiate. The whole cycle will serve only to highlight and perpetuate the split, and embitter the two sides against one another.
And what of a Republican who was steadfast to his principles and had the audacity to challenge Trump during his tenure?
Thoughts of a run will be skewered mercilessly by Trump and his loyal cult following. Remember: those who gave fealty to Trump, regular citizens in particular, will find it hard to abandon their guru. Confronted with a choice of continuing their loyalties to Trump or with facing and confessing the errors of their past, they’ll easily choose the former.
The blame game between the Sasse/McCain liberals, the go-along-to-get-along-but-never-quite-convinced-on-Trump moderates, and hard-core Trumpists will only amplify anxiety for donors, deprived of a sense of which candidate can avoid Trump assaults or who can reasonably stitch together some sense of policy in his aftermath.
Most of this theory as I’ve described it here rests on two assumptions: that Trump will continue to agitate through Twitter, and that his cult followers will not abandon him after losing. The former is, I believe, well established. The latter less so, but remember: these are the people that would refuse leave him even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue in broad daylight.
This split lasts as long as Trump tweets, and my guess is, that will be a long time. The tool that helped Republicans bask in the thrill of one of the most unexpected presidential triumphs in history would then become the same tool to make the GOP a house divided. The nation’s first Republican president knew perfectly well how effective a house divided can be.
Estelle Jennings is a pseudonym for a D.C.-based political journalist.