When Trump finally leaves office (whenever that may be), he will also leave behind a massive power vacuum on the right that will be hard to fill and will likely end up killing the Republican Party.
Trump’s character, as well as the way he changed the American electorate, has made it impossible for the GOP to go back to the way things were before he was elected.
Indeed, it is probable that the hole left by his (eventual) departure will be so massive that the Republican Party may never be competitive again.
Whether party leaders want to admit it or not, they’re married to that man. As it stands, most voters on the right despise the GOP and have done so since George Bush and the neocon movement destroyed what was left of the party’s principles.
The Tea Party was an attempt to restore those principles but was sabotaged by Republican leaders who were eager to keep selling their souls to corporate interests. In doing so they created a situation where their voters were made painfully aware of the fact that the GOP didn’t care about their needs as voters or even their ideology. The only game was pleasing donors and keeping power.
Into that reality stepped Donald Trump, an outsider whose main campaign message of “drain the swamp” was directed squarely at Republicans like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. In fact, the main reason Trump voters even vote for Republicans for Congress is so they’ll support the president’s agenda, not because they believe that people like Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz actually have their best interests at heart.
However, that begs the question “Why do people like Trump so much?”
Trump’s followers don’t like him because of the ideas he represents. Indeed, he doesn’t seem to adhere to any real ideology. Rather, voters like Trump because of who he is as a person. In their eyes, he is a billionaire who is also a concerned citizen that wants the best for the country. As such, he is incorruptible in a way the rest of The Swamp can never be.
This air of incorruptibly has become gold dust in elections and explains the most fascinating phenomenon in modern politics, the Sanders-Trump voter. These are people who voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries but then voted for Trump in the general election. And, believe it or not, they represent about 15% of people that voted for Bernie.
It's jaw dropping because Trump and Sanders could not be more opposed to each other ideologically. Yet, to these millions of Bernie voters, ideology was not nearly as important as trustworthiness. In Bernie they saw someone who had been a socialist for decades, had never taken a dollar from special interests, and wasn’t about to. In their eyes, he was also incorruptible.
This new golden attribute in American politics represents a fundamental shift in the priorities of the electorate and will continue to decide elections in the United States for quite some time. As such, the GOP has the near impossible task of finding another incorruptible person to take over from Trump.
In short, probably no one. People throw around the idea of a family member like Don Jr. or Ivanka taking over instead of some run of the mill swampy Republican. But, realistically speaking, that’s too much like switching out one dynasty for another. At least by picking some average Republican congressman, you can pretend that person is working in the interests of the country.
With a Trump family member though, it then seems like you’ve replaced one swamp with another, and the question then becomes “Is the Republican Party beholden to corporate America or just the Trump family?”. No, going with a Trump family member would be even worse than a cookie cutter Republican.
The GOP’s best bet is to replace Trump with another super-rich “concerned citizen” that people already know and like. Elon Musk springs to mind. Although it’s doubtful that voters will find it to be anything more than a gimmicky imitation of Trump at best and a dangerous move by a power-hungry person at worst.
Either way, the Republicans better figure out a way to pull a rabbit out of a hat because failure to replace Trump is an existential threat for them.
Ultimately, they have to win against progressives. Yet, as it stands, they are woefully outmatched. The left has been rapidly evolving to reflect changes in the electorate, including the requirement of incorruptibility. All of the party’s up-and-coming leadership are committed progressives, they don’t take corporate money, and they have the voting records to back it up. Indeed, they all seem quite committed to building the just society they talk so much about.
The GOP, meanwhile, doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Its leadership is 100% the same swamp that pushed so many people to Trump in the first place. Their younger politicians offer almost nothing in the way of change. Indeed, the only thing they have going for them is that they’re not the left. Although, as the Sanders-Trump voters show, ideology isn’t as important as trust, so their conservative credentials might not even take them too far.
In all, the future looks bleak for Republicans. Pending a miracle, they will likely lose a lot of elections while simultaneously contending with a progressive juggernaut. It’s not beyond imagination that they could merge with the moderate (read: swampy) wing of the Democratic Party to oppose the Progressives. However, one thing is for sure. Trump will probably be the last Republican president for a very long time, if ever.
Can the Republican electorate ever go back to the way things were?