The US and the Republican Party have experienced a rollercoaster four-year Trump Presidency. But it is not quite over; now they are at a crossroads. Do Republicans leave Donald Trump in the rear-view mirror, or allow him to continue in the Party’s driving seat towards 2024? This will undoubtedly be one of the most significant ideological steps the Republican Party will take in modern times and thus it is almost certain to be mouth-watering viewing.
Trump’s former campaign aides are already pushing his post-presidency agenda. Aides such as Brooke Rollins, the former President’s chief domestic policy adviser, are helping guide Trump-aligned non-profits to continue Trump’s rhetoric. This is not just a one off. A swarm of former White House officials are aggressively moving to do the same, including prominent figures such as ex-campaign manager Brad Parscale and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carlson. More interestingly, there is a serious political appetite for supporting Trump from donors. The America First Policy Institute, which aims to “promote the legacy and consequences of this president [Trump]” and ensure those ideas “continue and are defended”, has already taken up office space in Virginia, hired a team of about 30 staffers and raised millions of dollars. It is not just Rollins and the America First Policy Institute who are raising capital – sums cumulatively raised by pro-Trump organizations since the election are reported as being as high as over $200 million dollars. Trump may have been de-platformed on Twitter, but his allies are working hard to make sure he is not silenced, with Corey Lewandowki’s non-profit organization using money raised to fund primary campaigns against anti-Trump Republicans, or “RINO’s” – Republicans In Name Only, ensuring Trumpism lives on. According to Rollins, Trump is “very enthusiastic” about these movements, signifying the former President himself, as well as his closest allies, are not ready to let Trumpism end just yet, with a run in 2024 not being taken off the table.
The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump perhaps gives us some inclination as to where the Republican Party is heading regarding the former President. 43 out of 50 Republican Senators voted to acquit Trump for inciting the January 6th attack on the Capitol. If this is anything to go by, the Republican party is still very much under the thumb of the former President. Even if Trump is to vanish into the middle distance, he has undoubtedly reshaped the Republican Party, pushing it to the Right. Republicans such as Marjorie Taylor Green affirm this. Dubbed “Trump in drag”, the freshman representative is “100% pro-life, 100% pro-gun, anti-Green Deal, anti-AOC, anti-Black Lives Matter”. Her support for Trump is unquestionable, declaring “the party is his… It doesn’t belong to anybody else”; and Green is not the only one. Virginia state Senator Amanda Chase described herself as “Donald Trump in heels”. It is not only junior congressional Republicans who hold affinity towards Trump. The Republican Leader of the House, Kevin McCarthy, believes Trump should retake the spotlight despite his controversial nature. However, it is possibly infamous anti-Trump agitator Mitt Romney who most succinctly surmises Trump’s support in the Republican party. Talking to reporters he stated: “President Trump and populism are very much in the great majority of our party, and people like myself, who are more traditional conservatives, are a very small minority.” Thus, Trump may be gone but his influence on the Republican party has not diminished. Even if Trump is not directly in control, it looks as though Trumpism will live on through these congressional Republican voices. But it is unlikely Trump will withdraw from the limelight anytime soon, with a Presidential run touted at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) further confirming that Trumpism is not over just yet.
Despite this, Trump does not retain unanimous support. Republican leaders such as Mitch McConnell have implied they wish for a “clean break” from Trump. McConnell lambasted the former President for his role in the events of January 6th, asserting he was “practically and morally responsible”. If Republican leaders are willing to publicly scold him, perhaps a movement away from Trumpism is beginning to unfold. Yet, these remarks came just minutes after McConnell voted to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial. McConnell has even gone as far as saying he would “absolutely” support Trump if he was to run in 2024 and retain his grip on the Party. This perfectly encapsulates the bind Senate and House Republicans find themselves in, attempt to leave Trumpism behind or mollify Trump and his rallying base.
Trump still retains the support of the GOP base. 59% of Republican voters said Trump should play a “major role” in the Republican Party. Chair of the Republican Party in Polk County, J.C Martin has even gone as far to argue “The Trump name in the Republican Party is stronger than it has ever been”. According to this information Trump is here to stay. It is hard to deny Trump’s effect on Republican voters: he has galvanised them, whipped them up into what seems a frenzy of unwavering support. They, like Rollins and Carlson, are also turning to 2024, hoping that ‘their man’ does not abandon the fight. It is hard to say how long this wave of continued grassroots support for Trumpism will last. Bill Cassidy, one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump during the recent Impeachment trial, believes his influence will wane. But, for the time being, Trump is seemingly holding onto the support from his base.
But is his base enough?
From a more national perspective, Trump left office with a disastrous 29% approval rating. Not since pre-WWII had a president overseen the loss of the White House and both houses of Congress in a single term and, most damningly, Joe Biden received the highest vote share of any presidential challenger since 1932. Does this not make Trump a liability? Surely the American people have given their verdict on Trumpism via their vote. Even so, Trump did still managed to attain 74 million votes, 12 million more than his 2016 victory (62 million), suggesting a surge in Trump support and thus reinforcing the narrative that Trumpism is not dead yet. However, in both elections Trump lost the popular vote. This leads me to believe that, despite early support from loyalists, Trump will not have the legs to carry himself to victory in the 2024 primaries, let alone a return to the White House. But this is not to say Trumpism as a doctrine wont.
Whether you love him or loathe him it seems clear that Trumpism will live on in some capacity for now. Despite animosity towards Trump from some Republican leaders, his impact on the GOP’s support base is unquestionable. With former aides already raising millions, pro-Trump senators and representatives expressing support for the former president and the retention of support from his base, I am sure Trump is feeling buoyed. 2024 is a long way away, but I think it is certain that whoever the Republican party chooses to be its candidate will have been shaped in some ways by Trumpism. Whether it is “the Donald” himself, a pro-Trump candidate, or even just a Republican trying to distance themself from Trump, Trumpism will have played a significant role in their campaign. And thus, I think it is clear. Trumpism is not over just yet.