Comment: After Trump, will GOP search soul or stay course?

Assuming Trump loses, the GOP will have to consider whether its future lies in the MAGA base.

By Daniel W. Drezner / Special To The Washington Post

By the end of this week it will be a hundred days until the 2020 election, and it sure seems like President Trump is in big trouble.

FiveThirtyEight has Joe Biden with a pretty large lead; and the Post-ABC poll has him with an even larger lead. The Upshot’s Nate Cohn notes that Biden’s lead is larger than any presidential race has seen in the last quarter-century. The Economist projects a 93 percent chance Trump loses the electoral college and a 99 percent chance he loses the popular vote. Even GOP donors are beginning to pivot away from Trump and toward protecting the GOP majority in the Senate.

Can Trump be reelected in November? Sure, it’s possible! But with each day the coronavirus pandemic persists and Trump flails, the probability of a turnaround seems less likely. The likelihood that Trump will bring down other Republicans running for office must also be considered.

Let’s assume this outcome for a second: What does it mean for the GOP? Politics is a coldblooded game, and even before Trump has been declared a political dead-man-walking, speculation is beginning about what comes after. Commentary’s Noah Rothman recently observed, “The post-Trump era could begin sooner than many expect, and it would serve Republicans to prepare accordingly.”

Some are preparing by jumping ship. The AP’s Steve Peoples reports that former Ohio GOP governor John Kasich will speak in support of Biden at the Democratic National Convention: “Kasich is among a handful of high-profile Republicans likely to become more active in supporting Biden in the fall.”

Similarly, the Republicans who have joined the #NeverTrump movement seem willing to burn their party ID cards. In an interview with The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Lincoln Project co-founder John Weaver confirmed that, “The group is preparing to vehemently oppose efforts by GOP senators to obstruct and stymie Biden’s agenda, should he win the presidency.” Read the whole thing to understand Weaver’s reasoning, but I think it’s safe to say that any group that put out that ad is not worried about mollifying the Trumpists within the GOP:

If Trump’s apostates have left the party for good, what does that mean for a post-Trump GOP? Rothman suggests that if Trump gets pasted in November, the party will inevitably spurn him as well: “There will be a reckoning with the conditions that led the GOP to sacrifice most of the gains they made during eight years of Barack Obama … if history is any guide, one-term presidents do not escape their party’s censure no matter the conditions that led to their defenestration from the Oval Office.”

This is one possibility, and would frankly be the most encouraging one. It is true that after George H.W. Bush lost, the GOP became the party it is today, one largely dedicated to not compromising. A Trump loss — particularly if the loss is so large that he takes down the Senate majority as well — could lead to serious self-reflection.

There are reasons to be doubtful, however. Even if Trump crashes and burns, his cult of personality will command significant loyalty from his #MAGA base. That alone is enough to influence party primaries that in turn influence the party’s future leaders.

Furthermore, the degree to which Trumpists have permeated the entire GOP infrastructure has been underestimated. On Monday the Texas GOP, the country’s largest state Republican Party, elected former Florida congressman and current bigot Allen West to be its party chairman. According to the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek, “West rallied delegates against what he said was the ‘tyranny that we see in the great state of Texas, where we have executive orders and mandates, people telling us what we can and cannot do, who is essential, who is not essential.’” The Texas GOP is hardly the only right-leaning institution that has prostrated itself before Trumpist ideals to retain its relevancy.

Perhaps this infrastructure pivots in a post-Trump world. That would require, however, concerted action from activists and donors. Their fecklessness over the past four years is hardly reassuring on that front.

Bloomberg News’s Tyler Cowen offers some thoughts about what the post-Trump GOP would look like: “In the coming years, three things will dominate the attention of the intellectual right: the main international rival (China), the main domestic rival (the left), and the main thing they stare at all day long (the Internet).” Cowen thinks this looks different from Trump, but it sounds awfully Trumpy to me.

The scary thing about a post-Trump GOP is the prospect that it learns nothing. After getting pasted in 2006 and 2008, the GOP adopted an obstructionist posture during the Obama years. The more disaffected voters were during the Great Recession, the better this strategy worked. It is all too conceivable that the post-Trump GOP changes itself not at all. It can count on the vagaries of partisan politics in the United States to eventually inherit political power once again.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a regular contributor to PostEverything.

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