The fate of the post-Trump Republican Party hangs in the balance

From Issue 6

2021 has already proven to be an unpleasant year for Republicans. After losing the White House, seven senators who often aligned themselves with the President voted to object to certifying Joe Biden’s electoral college victory. Then the January 6th Capitol riots brought criticisms of President Trump’s election “trutherism” and inflammatory language to a head, and in the subsequent impeachment proceedings, ten Republicans in the House broke ranks, including House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (WY). 

Leadership must cut through this noise and be a sound voice for the party. No one wants to hear that they’re wrong, but, hey, guys, you’re wrong. No, Conservative Inc., we don’t need a complete return to normalcy. Normal wasn’t working. And no, Patriot Party, we can’t build our party around the legacy of a populist provocateur. That’s how we lost. We must reinstate principled conservatism and reject Trumpist showmanship without alienating his diehard supporters if we hope to stay nationally viable. So how does the Grand Ole’ Party pick up the pieces?

It’s easy to point to the events of the past month and declare that the party is dead, but much of the doom and gloom of the last two weeks has been hyperbolic. Democrats do technically control both the legislature and the presidency, but they hold only a thin grasp on power. It only takes one defector to break the Democrats’ Senate Majority, and I have faith that centrists won’t sign on to Medicare-for-All, D.C. Statehood, or a Green New Deal. It is important to note the hopeful trends for Republicans from the 2020 election. Voters voiced their rejection of the Trump Age’s uproarious controversy, but they didn’t reject Trumpism’s policies outright. The GOP saw a gain of 11 seats in the House and maintained 50 seats in the Senate with a map that had a strong tilt towards Democrats. Republicans, who already controlled the majority of state houses and governorships, flipped both of New Hampshire’s legislative houses; especially in a redistricting year, Republican dominance at the state level will be crucial. Additionally, Republicans performed much better with Hispanic voters and LGBTQ+ voters, and marginally better with black voters. 

However, the unified party of November 2nd has become disjointed and dispirited in a struggle between two factions. The president’s vulgarity and disregard for norms alienated many in the party establishment, and so the pre-Trump, traditional wing of the party, consisting of such people as Rep. Cheney and Sen. Mitt Rοmney (UT), seeks a return to the Party before 2016: fiscal and social conservatism with genuine concern for the deficit. But this school of thought lacks national appeal, as attitudes on issues such as gay marriage and marijuana suggest the country is moving to be less socially conservative as a whole; Donald Trump’s emergence in the crowded 2016 primaries is proof enough that the status quo simply wasn’t cutting it. Trump’s attacks on these “country club Republicans” have made his base dissatisfied to plain hostile to traditional leaders, and it will be hard for people like Cheney and Romney to regain their trust. On the other hand, the Trumpist wing of the party, including Sen. Josh Hawley (MO) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL), will presumably wish to hold the party to Trump’s populist smorgasbord: border walls, $2000 checks, new infrastructure, criminal justice reform, and “owning them libs.” There is certainly something to be said about the rising trend of populism on both sides of the aisle, but the fact is that a lot of this is just bad policy, and Trump never truly had an ideology to begin with. 

Where will the Republican Party go in the post-Trump era. Illustration by Kalyn Giesecke

We must first unite to work towards our common goals of limited government and liberty for all. We must stand for reason, sincerity, and dignity.  We must reach out to soccer moms from DeKalb County, Georgia, and single moms from Cook County, Illinois with bold ideas. We must not return to the inadequacy and naivety of the past, or  the absurdity and callousness of the present. We must go forward with principled, unflinching conviction in our ideals, or this generation won’t have a competitive conservative party.