By Gianfranco Iaia || Contributing Writer
While President Trump may no longer occupy the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in a couple of months, his ideological legacy will have a stronghold in the Republican Party for generations to come. I argue that, despite what happened last Tuesday, right-wing populism—and more specifically what I refer to as “Trumpism”—has been fully embraced by the American electorate and is fundamental for the survival of the Republican Party.
To better understand this phenomenon, it is important to distinguish between Trumpism and Donald Trump. Trumpism refers to a new wave of conservatism that has taken control of the Republican Party in the last four years. It supports economic protectionism, takes a hardline America-first position in foreign affairs, advocates for strong borders, and is a repudiation of political correctness. However, Trumpism does not refer to the constant lying, narcissism, and impulsive decision-making that will define Mr. Trump’s presidency.
This election was many things; however, it was not a repudiation of “Trumpism.” President Trump has surpassed President Obama’s 2008 vote total and will be the Republican with the most votes in American history. Despite coming up short in the crucial Rust Belt states, Trump was able to increase the number of votes he received in every battleground state from his 2016 totals. The American people did not reject President Trump’s ideology; they simply rejected his persona and gross mishandling of the worst pandemic in over a century.
There was one question in the exit polls that particularly stood out to me: Which factor did voters prioritize more in their choice at the polls—the candidates’ positions on key issues or the candidates’ personal qualities? Mr. Trump won the majority of votes from those who made their decision based on the issues by a 53-47% margin. It was the voters who prioritized the candidates’ personal qualities that overwhelmingly went for President-Elect Joe Biden with a 64-31% margin. This electoral success from Biden proves that his pitch to “return to normalcy” resonated with enough moderate voters who were tired of Trump’s un-presidential conduct, ultimately paving the way for a Biden victory. However, this exit poll also shows that Trumpism resonated with the American electorate and essentially won the political debate.
In order to understand why the Republican Party will thrive with Trumpism, one must simply look at what happened in the last midterm elections. One of the key takeaways from that election was that the Republican Party was firmly becoming the party of Trumpism. The Republican members of congress that got swept in the blue wave were for the most part either vociferous critics of the President or, at the very least, lukewarm on the topic of the president and his policies.
The biggest losers on that election night were Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Jeff Flake, who found themselves in a party they no longer recognized. The Congressional Republicans who remained in office were more in line with President Trump’s economic nationalism and protectionist narrative than with the old guard of the Republican Party. No longer is the Republican party the party of neo-conservatives and globalists such as Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, or John McCain. Despite losing the incumbency of the White House for the first time in thirty years, Republicans find themselves in a very strong position, and I would argue in striking distance of taking full control of the United States government. The Republicans will still hold the majority of state legislatures and governorships, the Senate (likely), and a commanding 6-3 majority in the Supreme Court.
So, what does the future hold for the Grand Old Party? What should it do to ensure it takes back the House in 2022 and makes President-elect Biden a one-term president? First, they have to stop being sore losers and accept the outcome of the election. Instead of fishing for wild conspiracies that the Democrats stole the election, the base has to ensure that the Lincoln Project “Republicans” do not steal the party from the Trumpism movement. Every Republican must vote in the upcoming primaries and ensure that the candidates they send to the 2022 midterm elections are in line with the Trumpian philosophy of America-first, right-wing populism. The last midterm elections were a spectacular failure for Republicans who did not embrace Trumpism. Therefore, any candidate who chooses to stray from Trumpism in 2022 will likely experience the same fate as Ryan and Flake did in 2018.
Once they attain this congressional majority, the next step is the 2024 election. While it may seem premature to contemplate the next general election, I have already seen numerous articles speculating on the 2024 nominee. Most of these articles were written by the same clueless pundits that insisted the American people would repudiate Trumpism, so I am not taking any of their suggestions seriously. Such pundits argue that to win back the moderates who jumped ship in 2020, the Republicans should nominate a centrist of the likes of Gov. Nikki Haley, Sen. Ben Sasse, or Sen. Marco Rubio.
Let me state the obvious: a limp, centrist conservative would never stand a chance of getting elected to the Presidency. The 2012 Republican autopsy report of Gov. Romney’s loss concluded that the Republican Party of 2012 was a dying party and was losing its appeal with ordinary Americans. They warned that if the party did not radically change its messaging, it would become a permanent minority party—especially with the country’s changing demographics. Ordinary U.S. civilians saw the Republican Party as a stale party designed primarily for rich white men, and for that reason, voters turned on them in massive flocks. Then in 2015, the savior of the Republican Party descended from a golden escalator. Donald Trump will go down as the 45th President of the United States of America despite his rash personality and poor temper. People excused his behavior because they were captivated by his unique populist message.
While many are quick to point to “White America” for making Mr. Trump president, they forget that what helped him get over the 270 electoral-mark were millions of people of color who broke for the Republican ticket. In 2016, Mr. Trump won more votes from POC than any of the last two Republican nominees. These people felt taken for granted by the Democrats, and with Trump, they finally felt like they had a champion by their side. This coalition of unlikely voters consists of the American “silent majority,” who have been disgusted by the political establishment of both parties and were captivated by the populist vision of Trumpism. This demographic longed for an outsider who would fight for the everyday American and stand up to the Washington elites. And it was these people who delivered Donald Trump the most unlikely of wins in 2016.
That being said, there is only one person who I see as the rightful heir to Donald Trump’s legacy and guide the Republican Party to electoral victory on November 5th, 2024: Tucker Carlson. Why would he be such a strong candidate? First, he currently hosts a prime-time program on Fox News that is by far the most-watched conservative nightly news show. As a result, he is a figure that is widely known and respected by the party. Second, he speaks the MAGA language and is a fire-breathing orator who can captivate and energize the Trump base in a way that no other career politician can. And finally, he is not Donald Trump.
In essence, the Republican’s formula for electoral success in the future is to fully embrace Trumpism while distancing themselves from candidates who emulate Donald Trump’s persona. A candidate like Carlson would move our political discourse from debating whether the president is mentally fit to one about the substantive issues facing our nation. Through Carlson’s populist message, the GOP could reach the disillusioned Rust Belt voter who could not look past Donald Trump’s poor moral character and win over the plurality of independent voters. In fact, it was the independent voters who delivered Trump the presidency in 2016 with a 48-42% margin and ultimately fired him from the office in 2020 with a 54-41% margin.
Gianfranco “Franco” Iaia is from F&M’s 2020 class. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.