Trump’s enduring legacy will be the fact he’s changed the Republican Party forever
If the Never Trumpers of the GOP establishment think Joe Biden’s election will rid the party of Trumpism, they’re in for a rude awakening. They need to embrace some of his ideas if they ever want to return to the White House.
President Donald Trump may have just two months left in office before Joe Biden takes over, but his impact on the Republican Party is likely to go down in history as the most significant and lasting aspect of his legacy.
The Republican Party has been hard-pressed for years to adapt its offering to attract new, younger supporters, particularly in light of shifting demographics. For years, the party has tried to, and failed, mainly because it insisted on a clinical approach rather than a humanistic one.
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In other words, the party ignored former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s famous words: “The facts of life are conservative.” Anyone trying to live an honest life made possible by their hard work understands basic values of classic conservatism – specifically, the notion that a person’s efforts should translate into a means of self-sufficiency with minimal government interference, unless absolutely necessary as a last resort safety net.
The party has long analyzed the rapidly changing electorate as though it was a foreign target that required manipulation. It was a testament to how divorced the party establishment had become from the citizenry. Republicans focused far too much on social conservatism – which often involved overreach into the private sphere, contrary to the personal individual freedoms which the party is supposed to champion.
It did so mainly to pander to its high-dollar donor base. As a one-time fundraising director of a DC-based think tank close to the Republican Party, it became obvious to me that social conservatism and military intervention in the Middle East were the two main issues for which the wealthiest donors to Republican causes insisted on seeing a return on their investment.
These donors – the extremely wealthy few – had long dictated party priorities, through think tanks, which lobbied Republican politicians, and ultimately reached into every level of government: legislative, executive and judicial. That’s how endless, senseless wars and interference in the private sphere became the norm, and the same old party talking points became increasingly divorced from the reality of the average American citizen.
The demographic sand was shifting under the party’s feet and it found itself sinking and unable to find an anchor to hoist itself back into relevancy.
Trump’s appearance on stage in the 2016 Republican primary debates highlighted just how different he was from all of the other candidates on stage – most of whom were party establishment fixtures. Trump’s inattention to specific demographics and seeming lack of interest in pandering to them strategically ironically appealed to a far broader spectrum of voters than the Republican establishment could have ever imagined. He knew how to speak to them in the same way that he knew how to talk to the construction site workers on his building projects. Instinctively, Trump spoke to the universal conservative facts of life evoked by Thatcher.
The average person isn’t interested in picking fights with foreign nations or waging war around the world, doesn’t care what the neighbors do in their private life unless it impacts directly on theirs, and doesn’t get involved in the daily minutiae of Washington establishment partisanship and its manifestation in the media or on social networks.
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Most Americans have an innate sense of fairness and justice, and accept minimal government intervention if it’s to keep the playing field level. (It’s why, for example, there was massive support in favor of the spotlight on law enforcement tactics in the wake of several incidents involving excessive use of force. It’s also why the same citizens drew the line at more extreme proposals to defund police departments under the same pretext.)
Trump has an undeniable knack for surfing the wave of popular political sentiment – not always perfectly – but it always seemed authentic. And in the end, there was a significant discrepancy between the actual 2020 election results and the blowout that Democrats and anti-Trumpers had hoped for. Media and establishment figures were left scratching their heads on election night, unable to understand why Trump hadn’t been handed a swift and decisive total knockout rather than a result that was too close for their own comfort.
Trump ultimately made inroads with minority voters at the expense of the Democrats. It’s a feat that the Republican Party has always been unable to achieve, despite its best manipulative efforts. If the GOP thinks that this election cycle is going to sweep Trump out with the Democratic blue tide and keep his electoral gains while returning to its old ways, then it’s in for a rude awakening.
The old Republican Party isn’t coming back. At least not if it wants to ever return another representative to the Oval Office. And it’s going to have to find a way to adopt some aspects of Trumpism to survive – or risk perishing.
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