Where does the GOP go from here?
When I planned out this newsletter as a new goal for 2021, I didn’t expect the first two weeks to have gone quite like this. The awful series of events that was the year 2020 has spilled into 2021 and we can only hope that the rest of the year is better than its first fortnight. But regardless, welcome!
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To start, I want to look beyond the next few days and weeks and examine where our politics are headed for the next few years in the wake of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the second impeachment of President Trump. The Trump era has made it feel like the rules and rhythms of politics and governance have gone out the window. But I think we can make some strong educated guesses about the future of of our key political actors.
Ugh, I guess I have to begin here. It’s easy to imagine Trump holding onto his sway over American politics that has seemed unbreakable since 2015, but I don’t think that’s likely to continue. The Presidency is uniquely suited to forcing everyone in the county to pay attention to it, if the person holding the office wants that, and boy, did Trump want that attention. That’s not to say he’ll disappear, particularly within the right-wing news ecosystem where his comments will still be seen as valuable. But the ramblings of former President Trump simply isn’t necessarily newsworthy in the way the ramblings of incumbent President Trump have been.
More importantly, Trump will have to spend the majority of his post-presidency trying to stay out of jail and out of bankruptcy. The office of the Presidency has protected Trump from the consequences of many of his actions. Who wants to call in a loan against the president? Who wants to sue someone when their law firm is the Department of Justice? There will be numerous legal cases, both federal and state (which would evade a self-pardon, even if it occurred and was upheld), both civil and criminal, that will drag on for years. The Trump Organization owes about $340 million to Deutsche Bank, who has vowed not to do future business with him.
Many other corporations have cut ties with Trump, which will make it a struggle to get money-making ventures up and running. The value of the Trump brand, which saved him so many times before his presidential run, is now worthless in many places, though not everywhere. He will still have many adoring fans within the right-wing ecosystem who will gladly spend their money on Trump-related grifts, but the man has a very expensive lifestyle and the government won’t be paying for it anymore.
As to his political future, he will certainly endorse in Republican primaries in 2022 and 2024 to try to defeat those he believes betrayed him and support those he sees as loyalists. Assuming he’s not convicted by the Senate and barred from running again, he will dangle a 2024 run right up until the New Hampshire filing deadline, though I highly doubt he would actually go through with it.
He’ll still be around, he’ll still be saying stuff that makes Fox News viewers go wild but he won’t be ever-present. There might even be some weeks we don’t think of him at all.
The events of last Wednesday were horrifying and the culmination of decades of indulgence of the far-right (and white supremacy) in this country, both by the media and by law enforcement. The good news is that the one thing that the American national security apparatus hates, it’s being embarrassed. There’s a lot wrong with America’s national security apparatus, but it is very good at hunting people down if it turns its attention to them. And its attention is now firmly placed on the far-right and QAnon.
Unfortunately, while this may help drive the far-right further out of polite society, it will not eradicate it. These very actions, while necessary, will likely further radicalize those who remain. Given all that Trump and the GOP has done to build it up, the far-right will be remain a force in American politics and the risk of right-wing domestic terrorism will continue to rise over the next few years.
Now here’s where the juicy political action will be. Thanks to America’s constant elections, we’re just 13 months away from the first Congressional primaries in Illinois and Texas, followed by hundreds more GOP primaries throughout 2022. And there’s going to be knock-down, drag-out battles in some of these seats. Corporate America and Never-Trumpers don’t have the grassroots, but they’ve got a ton of money and clear ideas about what to do with it.
Never-Trump GOP groups have already pledged $50 million to protect GOP members who vote to impeach or convict Trump. I’d also expect them to try to field candidates against some of the craziest GOP incumbents (similar to Steve King’s defeat last year). Meanwhile, Trumpists will go after Republican who were insufficiently loyal, though I highly doubt Trump will actually raise money for his side as he’ll need to keep it all for himself. These primaries will be key to whether Republican candidates must still demonstrate absolute loyalty to Trump to win, as was often the case during his presidency.
Beyond the 2022 primaries, the GOP will need to face more significant electoral losses before any sort of broader repudiation of Trumpism, a years-long if not decades-long project. While 2018 and 2020 were Democratic victories, Republican can write 2018 off as a normal midterm backlash and 2020 ended up quite close due to GOP structural advantages. Right now, it’s easy for them to believe they can win in 2022 and 2024 without changing anything at all.
It will likely take serious losses over multiple election cycles to see any sort of evolution in the GOP. The last time an American party pivoted to the center at the national level, it was Bill Clinton after 12 years out of the White House. What would it take for a GOP leader to have a Sister Souljah moment and repudiate the far-right?
President Biden and Congressional Democrats
On Thursday, I’ll have a similar post on the future of President Biden and Congressional Democrats as they look towards 2022 and 2024. Make sure to sign up so you don’t miss it!