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Republicans Wonder What Will Become Of Their Party With Trump In Exile

"The Show Must Go One" by Nancy Ohanian

It's unclear if the 9 lonely Republicans in the California state Senate ousted Trumpist crackpot Shannon Grove because she is certifiably insane or because they blames her for further shrinking their tiny caucus. They picked the most mainstream GOP state Senator, Scott Wilk to replace her. Everyone knows that, unlike Grove, Wilk is never going to tweet that the Trump coup attempt was really an Antifa operation. She's considered a liability for many reasons, not the least of which is that respectable corporations and business leaders don't want anything to do with her brain-dead extremism and conspiracy theory-mongering.

This kind of thing is percolating all over the country. Another crackpot just like her, but in Florida, state Rep. Anthony Sabatini says he's proposing renaming U.S. Highway 27 (fka "Death Highway") the President Donald J. Trump Highway, referring to Trump as "one of the greatest presidents in American History." Sabatini is best known as an anti-mask fanatic and as the most racist member of the Florida legislature-- quite an accomplishment-- but his rabid homophobia has caused many people to speculate that he seems obsessed with male genitalia and is probably a closeted gay himself. Unfortunately for Trump, because Sabatini is proposing the name change, it may face stiffer opposition than anyone would expect from a legislature completely controlled by Republicans. But even in states like Florida, the Republican Party is fracturing over Trump and Trumpism.

The other day, writing for Time, Molly Ball noted that the party is split over the impeachment and over its own future. She wrote that "For years, Republicans stood by their President, muttering their doubts in private. They pretzeled themselves to defend his shifting whims, reframed his outrages as silly showmanship and rejected his first impeachment as partisan overreach. Absolute loyalty was what their voters demanded; any sign of deviation was swiftly punished. But in the dramatic final weeks of his term, Trump finally pushed his party to its breaking point-- first demanding it reject truth and the democratic process by overturning the election he lost, then siccing his mob on the seat of government, with deadly results. Finally, on Jan. 13, 10 of the 211 House Republicans broke ranks and voted to impeach him for inciting an insurrection... Numerous Republican Senators have expressed openness to convicting Trump and potentially barring him from future office."

How will the minority party respond to the new Administration, whose visions of unity Republicans can dash by withholding cooperation? What should the GOP stand for if not the cult of personality Trump forged? How much influence will Trump and his family continue to have on the party going forward? And how can Republicans win elections if they are trapped between a fanatical base of delusional conspiracists and a broader electorate that despises Trump?
Some top Republicans are hoping Trump’s hold on the party will loosen now that he’s out of office. Others believe a clean and deliberate break must be made to regain lost credibility. “You can’t just do things and act like they never happened,” says Republican John Kasich, the former Ohio governor. “Of course they are going to pay a price for what they did.” If the GOP doesn’t find a way to dump Trump and start anew, Kasich says, “the party will fall in on itself.”
The first turning point for the post-Trump GOP is fast approaching. It would take 17 of the 50 Republican Senators voting with all 50 Democrats to convict Trump of the impeachment charge of inciting insurrection. The Senate could then vote to punish the ex-President by prohibiting him from holding federal office in the future. That’s an appealing prospect for Republicans who would like to see the party move past a man who has mused about running again in 2024.
...There was a paradox to the party’s policy shifts during the Trump years. The outgoing President upended the GOP’s traditional stances on fiscal, social and national-security issues. He blew up the deficit, imposed tariffs that scrambled trade relationships, restricted immigration and embraced the world’s most despicable dictators. Yet he was generally disengaged with policy and lawmaking, never presented a health care plan and claimed a massive corporate tax cut as his only significant legislative accomplishment. Trump policed GOP lawmakers’ fealty to him with vigilance, yet rarely punished ideological deviations. Critics charged that the real substance of “Trumpism” was the racial and cultural grievances Trump delighted in inflaming.
In 2020, for the first time in the GOP’s 166-year history, the Republican National Committee (RNC) did not draft an electoral platform at all. Instead, it simply issued a statement of support for the President. The upshot is that what the party should stand for is more or less a blank slate, with some party veterans aiming to resurrect the orthodoxies of the past while others strive to reformulate policies in light of Trump’s rise.
...No one yet knows how ex-President Trump plans to stay involved in politics, but few expect him to sit on the sidelines.
“I don’t think he’s going to ride off into the sunset. I think he’s going to enjoy being a former President much more than he enjoyed being President, quite frankly,” a former GOP official says. But the Capitol siege throws Trump’s future appeal into question, the official notes. “Three weeks ago, I would have told you he loves to be kingmaker, loves to hold an endorsement over someone’s head and can be a factor as long as he wants to be. But now it’s just so up in the air.”
If he is not barred from office, he is expected to keep a 2024 candidacy on the table in an attempt to freeze the field and maintain his influence in the party, even if he doesn’t go through with another presidential run. Trump retains control of a millions-strong email fundraising list that delivered more than $200 million even after he lost the 2020 election—with most of the funds going to his own political coffers, not the party’s. And while not all his handpicked candidates won their races, his endorsement has been a powerful force in GOP primaries. Already, Trump allies are seeking to purge those perceived as disloyal, from House GOP Conference chair Liz Cheney, who supported impeachment, to the governors of Arizona and Georgia, who rebuffed Trump’s election attacks.
...[E]ven if he’s done with elected office, it’s clear that politics has become a Trump family business. His daughter-in-law Lara Trump is considering a Senate run in North Carolina, her home state, and there is talk of a political future for his children Ivanka and Don Jr.
Polls were eerily static throughout Trump’s term, unmoved even by such calamities as COVID-19. But for the first time, a significant chunk of Republicans moved away from Trump following the Capitol riot. Trump’s approval rating plummeted from the 40s to the 30s overall. Among those who consider themselves Republicans, 33% said the party should stop following Trump and take a new direction, and 12% said he should be criminally charged for his actions, in a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll.
If such defections hold, it would be a devastating development for a party already dependent at a national level on structural quirks that embed minority dominance, such as the Electoral College and the Senate’s overrepresentation of rural states. The siege also spurred a revolt among the traditionally conservative business class, as corporate political action committees announced they would no longer support lawmakers who objected to certifying Biden’s victory. The billionaire Home Depot retired co-founder and longtime Republican donor Ken Langone, for example, said on CNBC that he felt “betrayed” by Trump and would support Biden going forward. With Trump as their standard bearer, Republicans lost the House, the Senate and the presidential popular vote-- twice.
Dissatisfied with the party’s insufficient loyalty, Trump has reportedly discussed forming a third party in recent weeks. But whether his faction is inside or outside the GOP, the party will be grappling with his influence for a long time to come. “That percentage of Republicans who continue to believe that the election was stolen will continue to be very vocal about it, and it’s just going to be a huge problem for us,” says Jeff Larson, a former RNC chief of staff who worked on behalf of the party’s Senate campaigns in 2020. “And you’ll have people that will try to appease them, and then it becomes worse. We need strong leaders.”
Pulling in the opposite direction are efforts by anti-Trump conservatives such as the Lincoln Project to reshape the party into a kinder, gentler, less authoritarian force. But as long as the rank and file remain loyal to Trump, the moderates will have a difficult job. “A mob of pro-Trump radicals and neofascists sacked the Capitol and forced Congress to flee.
I hope that’s enough to make some sane Republican politicians ask, ‘How did we come to this?’” says Geoffrey Kabaservice, political director of the Niskanen Center think tank and author of an influential history of moderate Republicans. “Part of it is that Donald Trump is a sociopath, but there are also real problems tearing the country apart, and the Republican Party needs to try and address those problems if it wants people to turn away from Trump’s toxic legacy. It might not work. But it’s the only thing that might work, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Yesterday, John Pavlovitz wrote about a family friend you said that watching Biden being inaugurated was "a sad day for America." He wondered what made her sad watching it. "Was it a man who’s suffered unthinkable personal tragedy and loss, taking the oath of office at the age of 78-years old, after coming out of retirement to run because he felt an obligation to his nation to save it from a historically harmful presence? Did that make her sad? Was it the swearing in of the first female, black, Asian-American Vice President in our nation’s history? Was she sad about that? Was it the radiant countenance of 22-year old, African-America poet laureate Amanda Gorman, who overcame a speech impediment to eloquently deliver brilliant words of stratospheric hope to a nation so needing it? Did that make my friend sad?"

"Was it the glorious prophetic fire of Rev. Silvester Beaman’s benediction, as he declared that 'In our common humanity, we will seek out the wounded and bind their wounds, we will seek healing for those who are sick and diseased… we will befriend the lonely, the least, and the left out.' As a professed Christian, was that why she was sad? Perhaps it the show of solidarity by the living presidents from both sides of the aisle who assembled to witness an inauguration, on the site of what only two weeks prior was a deadly, failed attempt by domestic terrorists to violently prevent it? Was that cause for her despair?

...I don’t think even she knows. I imagine she, like so many people in our nation, has been so weaned on a false story of her present oppression and impending demise, so gaslit by her president into being perpetually terrified, that in this moment she can’t see clearly. She can’t see that normal is better, that more diverse is better, that words of kindness are better. She can’t see that this president is for her, that he is for me, that he is for this nation. She can’t see that this president, while not perfect-- actually gives a damn about her in ways the former president simply never did. That makes me sad."

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