Determining Trump's long-term impact on the Republican Party
America without Donald Trump as president will be inarguably a more boring place. Does any honest red-blooded American really want politics to regress to the yawnful status quo ante, when the chief executive didn't dole out daily insults in 280 characters or fewer?
For the country of Survivor season 41, hardly. America will remain more or less intact, albeit prosier, when Trump decamps from Pennsylvania Avenue. But what of the Republican Party? The question isn't nearly as interesting to the palace-intrigue slavering public. Yet it's of imperative consideration for both major parties. Democrats need to know their enemy; the GOP needs to understand itself.
In one week or four more years, Republicans, from party leaders to rank-and-file members to state chairs to precinct captains to the lowliest voter, will have to decide what Trump's lasting influence, if any, will be on the party he's captained. Will the populist hotelier be a bright vermillion flash in the pan, a dollop of peach topping on top of the bland Republican vanilla soft-serve? Or will his instinctual America-First approach be absorbed by the traditionally capitalist class-friendly party?
Nicholas Lemann of The New Yorker adumbrates three possible roads the GOP might take post-Trump. They can be folded up neatly into the following categories: Trumpian, anti-Trumpian, and kinda-sorta Trumpian. Lemann defines these political conspecifics as the "Remnant, Restoration, and Reversal" breeds.
The "Remnant" is composed of "traditional Americans who see themselves as courageously defending their values." This is the most Trump-like phylum. Its acolytes include senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, along with Fox News ratings monster Tucker Carlson. Après Trump, they will continue to mine the nationalist vein for electoral gold.
The "Restoration" is a group better described as the neocon emperors strike back. They represent a Republican return to form: internationalist, interventionist, and investable. Wall Street, the Trilateral Commission, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and the Chamber of Commerce would all welcome a Restoration revert — and cut big checks to make it happen. Former South Carolina governor and preening elite princess Nikki Haley is the drum major of this backwards-marching corps. Banging along happily for the good old TARP-y, Bushy days are secretary of state Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence. Each has served loyally under President Trump, despite their ideological misgivings over their boss's populist streak.
The last, and most interesting, of the taxonomies, the so-called "Reversal," involves flipping of the red-blue dynamic ass-over-teakettle. In this scenario, Republicans would embrace the working class and attendant economic-uplift policies, which are blithely referred to as "socialism" by the Restoration cohort. Out goes Milton Friedman; in comes Elizabeth Warren. By embracing and expanding the social safety net, and marketing it heavily to aggrieved ruralites, the GOP could truly "replace the Democrats as the party of the people." Former Tea Party darling Marco Rubio falls into the Reversal camp, as does the little known policy wonk Oren Cass.
Lemann believes that the latter Reversalists are "the most threatening to the Democratic Party." There's some truth to this: socially liberal, fiscally conservative voters are few and far between in the American electorate. A party that doesn't completely eschew welfare relief and doesn't roundly endorse unquestioned transgender bathroom access and kindergarten sex ed has a politically high ceiling in which to rise under. The same could be said of the hayseedy Remnant, whose lack of deference to big business corresponds much more with American opinion than corporate toadying.
Which group will prevail? Which should succeed if Republicans want to have a shot at winning elections after Trump? Lemann doesn't say, mainly because, to channel a little bit of Foucault, he isn't interested in offering Republicans advice. His chronicle is in The New Yorker, after all. He means only to highlight the tensions within the Republican tent, and possibly inspire the fractions to keep shooting inside rather than out. We aren't fooled.
What Lemann presents really is a false trichotomy. There is no reason why the Nikki Haleys, Josh Hawleys, and Marco Rubios can't get along and form a new coalition, similar to the famous Reaganite three-legged stool, supported by economic libertarians, military hawks, and pro-life evangelicals. In fact, the Remnant-Restoration-Reversal makeup is the de facto Republican Party currently. With the neocon NeverTrumps back within what Jim Antle calls their "ancestral Democratic homes," the GOP's trice-planked teeter-totter is unsteadily balanced on a fragile fulcrum of ordoliberalism, moderate welfarism, and muscular but tempered foreign engagement.
After their 2016 loss, Democrats opened their doors wider (but not too wide) to democratic-socialist cohort that flocked around crankshevik Bernie Sanders. Much of the Vermont senator's platform has been adopted by the party: single-payer health care, free college tuition, limitless taxation of the rich. Sanders didn't need to win the Democratic nomination to win over the party.
Win or lose, the Trumpian insurgency that took the GOP off guard in 2016 will leave its mark in one way, or one personality, or another. Trump term two would only make the impression deeper and less deniable.