The identity of our next president remained unsettled at my deadline Tuesday night, and perhaps remains so this morning after Election Day. But whether the one-man national security threat who is currently president wins or loses, one sad fact is certain:
The thoroughly Trumpified Republican Party will remain dominated by deplorables for the foreseeable future. The necessary restoration of a responsible conservative party remains a dream deferred, to quote the poet. Vice President Mike Pence woke this morning as the frontrunner for the 2024 nomination, whomever is finally declared victor this year.
As a Never-Trump Republican, I grieve this state of affairs. But the millions of barnacles who clung yesterday to “the worst American president in modern history” were reciprocating Trump’s loyalty.
“There just isn’t much evidence that the previous establishment side of the party (the Bush wing) has significant support among current Republican identifiers,” Stony Brook University’s Stanley Feldman told the New York Times, voicing the view of most political scientists the paper interviewed before Election Day. “Trump won the Republican nomination in 2016 because he sent the strongest signals to Republican primary voters that he would champion their views as president.”
As a Never-Trump Republican, I grieve this state of affairs.
Those views, redundantly documented, define a white nationalist, xenophobic personality cult that fears a racially diversifying country and its evolving mores. While Trump worked feverishly to arrest that diversity — for example, by cutting immigration, both undocumented and legal — his party’s base and congressional leaders gratefully excused his child-caging, corruption and authoritarian feints.
This is simple human psychology: Fears and hate don’t fade when people lose a war, let alone an election. White supremacy didn’t die at Appomattox; it shape-shifted from slave owning to Jim Crow, and then to the legally proscribed tumor it is today. Republicans’ ideology has proven no less durable in electoral defeat. Pre-Trump, they planted their flag on the hills of plutocracy and dog-whistled racism. They wouldn’t budge, despite losing the popular vote in five of the six presidential elections between 1992 and 2012.
Rather than try a new playbook, Trump in 2016 swapped the whistles for a bullhorn — and made it six out of seven popular-vote losses. (True, he broke with Republicanomics by supporting middle-class entitlements like Medicare. But that promise went the way of his marital vows, when he signed a plutocratic tax cut and tried to weaken Medicare protections.)
After Barack Obama won re-election, Republicans famously drafted a self-flagellating post mortem that said in part, “Many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.” Wrongly? 2016 showed that many minorities actually read Trump Republicans correctly, and that defeat hadn’t chastened the GOP.
But while Trumpism has won the battle for the party, it’s doomed to defeat in the war for the nation’s destiny. Even before Tuesday’s returns, its noxious agenda increasingly nauseated droves. “Trump has driven Americans, including many Republicans, away from his positions,” Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell wrote last month, citing polls showing majorities endorsing immigration, free trade and Obamacare while opposing the Trump-backed assault on the latter before the Supreme Court.
Ronald Reagan walked away with reelection 1984, despite similar public disagreement with many parts of his agenda, winning over voters with a genially optimistic personality. Trump has the personality of an overflowing septic tank. There’s another relevant difference between the Gipper and the Donald. The former polished the Republican brand among young voters, winning a majority of them in his re-election, such that the vanquished Democrat, Walter Mondale, lamented that he’d never lost that demographic before in his career.
There’s no Reagan in the wings to put a smiley face on Trumpist hate.
But dirt polls better than Trump among youth. “No recent president has ever been more hated by young people,” an analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute told the Boston Globe. “This generational opposition casts a very dark shadow on the future of the Republican Party.”
There’s no Reagan in the wings to put a smiley face on Trumpist hate. Pence is civil enough but hasn’t shown anything like Reagan’s touch. Might a few whoopings at the hands of tomorrow’s voters await Republicans? Heather Cox Richardson, a Boston College historian of the party, predicts that in 10 years, the GOP will have shed its Trump-ish snake skin to resemble what it once was, the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. If that happens, America will owe Gen Z an epic debt.
Meanwhile, alas, we must contend with the Republican Party we have. You’d think Trumpeters would be happier living in a place like Russia. where they could more easily indulge their hankering for strongmen, lousy health care and bigotry. They are why there are former Republicans today, one of whom, veteran political operative Stuart Stevens, prescribes harsher medicine than Richardson for his not-so-grand old party: ”Burn it to the ground, and start over.”