The Republican National Convention ended fewer than 48 hours ago but a question already arises:
We don’t know how unforeseen events will play out, but November’s results will surely influence the immediate course of the GOP.
Let’s examine the three most likely outcomes in 65 days: a narrow Trump victory; a narrow Trump loss; and a decisive Trump loss.
A narrow Trump victory — which seems likelier today than it did earlier this month — solidifies the bond between Trump and the GOP. Legacy media, tech moguls, Hollywood hucksters, priggish academics, ignorant athletes and Lincoln Project types fought and protested daily, yet the president survived a pandemic, urban mayhem, impeachment and Bob Mueller. His combative style will be solidified, and the party’s ideology likely becomes more populist than traditionally conservative.
If Trump loses narrowly, intra-party chaos ensues. Hyper-partisans blame the pandemic, media and NeverTrumpers, while the next populist generation of Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley types position themselves as standard-bearers for a new GOP.
This likely includes Sohrab Ahmari’s “woke” conservatism, immigration restrictionism, economic protectionism, and a reaffirmation of “America First” foreign policy. With help from Breitbart News, Lou Dobbs and Laura Ingraham, the “Cotton/Hawley wing” won’t be sclerotic; since neither senator nor their media allies will perturb erstwhile Trump supporters, they can attack the totalitarian left and dominate, while claiming to be the president’s rightful successor.
One can imagine a 2024 GOP primary featuring a smorgasbord, including Cotton, Hawley, Ted Cruz, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Kristi Noem, Marco Rubio, Ben Sasse, Tim Scott, and more. Note all options, except Scott, are under age 50. (Despite his popularity in early polling, I don’t think Mike Pence runs. I also hope oleaginous provocateurs like Matt Gaetz and Donald Trump Jr. won’t.)
A decisive Trump loss unsurprisingly leads to Democrat overreach. The left will interpret one victory as a referendum on the party’s divisive agenda of grievance and anger. With the execrable Kamala Harris potentially supplanting Joe Biden, outrage mobs would be emboldened.
A lot depends on whether the GOP holds their tenuous grasp on the U.S. Senate this fall; if not, everything from filibuster abolition, Supreme Court packing, abortion extremism, major tax increases, and eradicating the electoral college, to socialized health care, climate boondoggles, egregious foreign policy, and curtailing gun rights, will be on the agenda, eclipsing any Obama-era edicts.
A bad Trump loss also means conservatism temporarily loses. Socialists will influence the Democrats, while rioting criminals, racialists and anti-Semites will be mollified, and the future direction of the GOP goes in doubt.
For right-leaning Trump skeptics, or “the establishment,” it’s disappointing, since a narrow Trump victory or loss leaves a formerly conservative party in populist hands. They forget, as Matt Glassman noted this week, “the unified government of 2017-2018 was Trump ditching his campaign agenda and succumbing to a standard GOP legislative program.”
What do some campaign veterans think?
“The GOP will remain fractured and there will be a contest to determine which leader inherits the Trump legacy,” a well-connected friend in Indiana told me. “A similar contest will emerge to determine who carries the mantle of more traditional Republicans. While I prefer Haley, Pence or Rubio, the GOP will have its bearings and be in a position to be a long-term ruling party again within 12-16 years.”
I also reached out to a GOP consultant in Ohio.
“The Republicans have a superior bench. So assuming the hill isn’t too hard to climb, the younger, more united Republicans can take control of the future,” he said. “But there are so many fires, both domestic and foreign. And if Biden wins, many of those will be raging in 2024. His economic plans, if passed, will be disastrous to economic recovery. China will become a less-challenged threat, while Iran, with Iranian money and little sanctions, will be a greater problem. And throw in a lot of crazy things like banning fracking, I see a world of hurt.”
I received this reply from a New York-based attorney and Republican fundraiser.
“If Trump wins, the battle between the populist wing of the Republican Party and regulars will continue. That battle will complicate efforts to expand their base to include suburban women and minorities. It will also make it difficult for the GOP to keep the White House in 2024,” he wrote. “If Trump loses, the populist wing will recede into the background and party regulars will be in ascendancy and have opportunities to expand the base. Long term, that may be better for the party and perhaps the country. However, in the short term, if Trump loses and Democrats take the Senate, the change and damage could be so devastating it’ll take decades to recover. It will also probably guarantee a Red wave in 2022 and 2024.”
Earlier this week at National Review, Dan McLaughlin claimed there are four ways Republicans go after Trumpism.
“One is that the party should seek someone who tries to re-create Trump in both style and substance. The second is that the party will need someone who repackages Trumpian populism behind a less rough-edged candidate. The third is that the party should return to a more conventional conservative Republican, while accommodating the shifts in tone and platform that have occurred under Trump. The fourth is that the party needs someone totally untainted by connection to Trump — thus ruling out anyone who served in his administration or speaks at this convention.”
My overarching belief is we shouldn’t bid adieu to traditional conservatism because, despite the president’s shortcomings, it’s proven to be the best means for uniting our pluralistic nation, facilitating prosperity, and maintaining peace among superpowers. I have faith that so-called progressivism will be exposed as artificial, ephemeral, and not a transformation of the electorate. “Everyday Americans” tire of endless proselytizing, failures to draw distinctions and blanket demands that aren’t tethered to the proximate cause.
The nation is too polarized for ideological dominance from today’s American Left.