Monday, May 11, 2020

No, Trumpism Will Not Continue to Dominate the GOP Once Trump Leaves Office

The Bulwark podcast, hosted by former Wisconsin radio personality Charlie Sykes, is one of my favorite.    Rather than sell his political soul and cash in on the Trump phenomenon as so many "conservative" media types have done, Sykes, a long-time conservative, walked away.  Have to admire that.

A couple weeks ago, Sykes' podcast featured Stuart Stevens, probably the premier GOP political consultant of the pre-Trump era of Republican politics.  Like Sykes, Stevens has become disgusted by
Republican Consultant Stuart Stevens
the conservative movement devolving into Trumpism.  I will never forget meeting Stevens when I worked on the Rex Early for Governor campaign.  One of the sharpest political strategists in the country, Stevens knew how to use paid media better than anyone I've ever known.  His 30 second commercials are some of the best, most persuasive political ads ever made.

The conversation on the podcast turned to the future of the Republican Party post-Trump.  Sykes and Stevens were in agreement that Trumpism would continue to dominate the GOP after Trump left and that Trump, once he is out of office, will continue to insert himself into political debates.

The latter I 100% agree with.  The former I do not.  Here are the reasons why Trumpism will not continue to dominate Republican politics after Trump leaves office.

1)  Trumpism Is Not A Political Philosophy:  Trumpism is about grievance politics.  It is about being angry at the other side, believing not only that the "libs" are wrong, but also evil.  It is about tribalism.  We versus them.  That's all well and good, but it does not make for a coherent set of principles that, long term, the can bind people together to win political elections.  On basically every political issue, Trump has been on both sides.  Trump could come out for amnesty for illegal immigrants tomorrow and his supporters would convince themselves Trump is right on the issue. For Trumpers, when "Dear Leader" makes a pronouncement about an issue, he is by definition right, because he is "Dear Leader."  The reason why Trumpism has the earmarks of a personality cult is because it is a personality cult.

2) Trumpism is Not Transferable:  Since November 2016, there have been many Republican candidates try to imitate Trump's attitude and persona.  They have called opponents names, insulted the media, embraced outlandish positions, and refused to apologize even when wrong.  Most Trump Imitators who were involved in competitive elections have failed.  Probably the best example of that is in Kansas where a Democrat was elected governor because GOP candidate and Secretary of State Kris Kobach failed to impress voters with his Trump imitation.  There are, however, exceptions, such as Governor DeSantis of Florida and Governor Kemp of Georgia.  But their excessive Trumpism might have actually made their 2018 races closer than they otherwise would have been. 

3)  Trump's Endorsements Actually Hurt GOP Candidates in General Elections:  On a related topic, several GOP candidates running in general elections have sought out Trump's endorsement for their races.  Some "lucky" candidates not only received that endorsement, they got the President to come to their district/state to hold a rally to gin up Republican turnout.  You know what happens when Trump does that?  Trump's endorsement and presence fires up Democrats just as much and probably more than it does the Republicans.  A Trump endorsement/visit is almost always counter productive.

4)  Trumpism Can't Win General Elections:  No doubt, Trumpism dominates the GOP electorate.  But to be an effective movement, Trumpism has to win general elections.  In 2016, Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 2.1 million, but eked out a win in the Electoral College, winning three critical states (Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) by a total margin of voters who could fit into an NCAA Division 1 football stadium.  In poker terms, Trump drew to an inside straight and got the right card.  Since 2016, Trumpism has shown no general election popularity. Republicans running on his brand have lost scores of seats and even in those in which the GOP candidate won, the victory margin was down substantially.

5) Demographics Doom Trumpism:  Following the 2012 election loss, GOP leaders did an "autopsy" which concluded the Republican Party needs to reach out to minorities and younger voters, i.e. that it could not win national elections any more being the party of predominately middle-aged and older white people.  Did Trump's victory in 2016 prove the 2013 GOP election autopsy wrong?   No.  Trump's 2016 victory merely proved that there was still a way to cobble together one more narrow GOP Electoral College victory using the old GOP coalition..  As we get further and further away from 2016, the electorate becomes less white and younger voters, who prefer Democrats, replace Trump-loving older voters. 

Even if Trump loses, he will continue to speak out on political issues and have devout followers.  He will, no doubt, still be a force in Republican politics.  But, at the end of the day, ideas have to be popular enough to help a political party win general elections, not make it more difficult for that party  to succeed.  The unpopular, often incoherent, ideas that define Trumpism offer the Republicans no future. It is for that reason that Trumpism, post-Trump, will not be the dominant force in GOP politics.

1 comment:

True Republican said...

Paul,

I agree with you that in the end that Trumpism has no long term staying power. But unfortunately we in the GOP are going to be stuck paying for Trump’s mistakes for a decade, if we are lucky. Once Trump is gone it’s not like all his enablers are going to go away. Eventually Trumpism will die off. But it will take a long time indeed.