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It’s time to plan for a post-Trump GOP

You can tell many people on the right don’t feel like they’re winning. And I’m not just talking about the midterms or recent government shutdown shenanigans. Look at the titles of sites and podcasts emerging in the Age of Trump: our own Resurgent, the Remnant, and the Bulwark are all notable. They each have their own purpose and varied ideological bent, yet the theme is clear. There is something to be reclaimed.

Be that the conservative movement, the Republican party, or lost elected offices, the feeling of loss resonates. Whatever victory some on the right may have felt with Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, it was not a win for conservatism. Now, the collapse of Republican support in the suburbs and the currently destructive track of shutdown politics have affirmed and exposed the damage to the right is even deeper than electing a “Republican” President without a conservative worldview (or any real world view for that matter).

If 2018 was a body blow for right-of-center governance with the loss of the House, 2020 is looking potentially worse as Trump’s approval rating slips from problematic to potentially disastrous:


Trump’s last six months of job approval ratings. Not great, Bob! Credit: RCP

A number of Republicans are clearly of the mind Trump is at times helpful, at times unhelpful, and at times an albatross around their necks, but “gee, won’t everything be ok when Trump exits stage right, be it January 2021, January 2025, or some other date?”

Not exactly.

Part of this cumulative decline for the GOP was predicted even before the 2016 election results, as polling revealed Trump’s weakness in the suburbs compared to Romney’s performance against Obama:

The suburbs, where 47 percent of all votes were cast in 2012, went narrowly for Romney after voting narrowly for Barack Obama in 2008. This time around, with Trump doing little to tailor his message beyond his base of disaffected white men, he’s lagging far behind Romney’s performance.

Trump may have pulled an inside straight with white working class voters (aided by unenthusiastic Democratic turnout) that helped him win Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, but those depressed suburban numbers restrained margins of victory in Texas, Georgia, and the like; a huge factor in Trump’s popular vote loss.

And the suburban problem got worse. 39 of the 41 House seats Democrats turned from the GOP in 2018 were not only suburban, the losses affirmed part of the long-term electoral challenge if Trumpism makes voting Republican more persistently odious from some previously GOP-inclined voters:

[M]any suburban voters tend toward an eclectic mix of preferences that can seem contradictory. Particularly in denser, close-in suburbs, voters tend to be more cosmopolitan than in rural areas and turned off by culture-war issues that animate other Republican voters. But they’re also more fiscally conservative than many urban voters, and opposed, for example, to the higher taxes some liberal policies would require.

Trump has in fact turned nearly all of our current politics into one giant culture war, exacerbating that suburban flight as Trump attempts to govern (if that’s what you call it) without the foil of the supremely unpopular Hilary Clinton as his opponent. Our own Erick Erickson said it well after last November’s election:

These voters in Texas, Arizona, Georgia, etc. didn’t become socialists in the last two years. They haven’t changed. They think the GOP has. Heck, the GOP lost suburbs in Oklahoma because of these issues. For God’s sake, people, a Democrat picked up SC-1 by running against Trump and tariffs and for free trade.

One might argue, “gah, Trump showed us we don’t need suburbanites to win the White House.” Eh, not really. He showed us he could win the White House in 2016 while winning less suburban votes but more rural votes than Romney and having the advantage of Democrats, especially black Americans, not being remotely excited about Hillary Clinton.

What’s one thing we can guarantee in 2020 if Trump is on the ballot? Democrats will crawl through broken glass, uphill (both ways!), and in the snow to vote against him.

And the problem is worse than just suburbanites. Right-of-center pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson has been beating the drum the GOP has historic problems with today’s version of voters in their 30’s: Millennials. Bad news, it’s just as ugly with Generation Z as well:

Gen Z & Millenials are aligned on disliking Trump, wanting a more active government, and embracing diversity. Credit: Kristen Soltis Anderson

These younger voters are not being drawn to the GOP for a number of reasons, with Trump being the most glaring. Trumpism is shaping their view of the Republican Party. These aren’t 50 or 60 somethings living in the burbs, potentially ready to vote again for the next Romney or Bush-like candidate. The 20 and 30 somethings of today will need tangible reasons to convince them the Republican Party doesn’t suck as much as they and their peers think.

How to remedy all this? Here are three possibilities:

1) Keep coming down hard on those that embarrass the GOP. Condemning and punishing Congressman Steve King was good. So too was the shunning of Corey Stewart in Virginia…though better yet, keep morons like that from winning primaries at all.

Senator Tim Scott said it clearly amidst the Steve King blowback:

When people with opinions similar to King’s open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but also our nation as a whole…

Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism — it is because of our silence when things like this are said. Immigration is the perfect example, in which somehow our affection for the rule of law has become conflated with a perceived racism against brown and black people.

This needs to happen overtly and publicly when people claiming the Republican banner say things that have no place in the GOP. I’m not sure if a full purge is in order. It might be. But it definitely needs to be made crystal clear the welcome mat is not out for such folk.

2) Recruit candidates capable of winning back lost seats and representing the party well in competitive races. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s E-Pac is off to a good start. Despite some initial resistance her launch event to focus on recruiting more qualified, female candidates for Congress included the whole of House GOP leadership. There should be more and diverse efforts than just Stefanik’s of course, but it’s a good example of not relying on just GOP infrastructure to address the issue.

3) Run on an agenda to that appeals to more than the base and its grievances. Senator Marco Rubio has, for example, been trying to shape a series of conservative policies to address the issues affecting disaffected Americans, including those who gravitated to Trump. The same is necessary to make inroads with Millennials and Generation Z who have both been repelled by Trump and have a different, foundational perspective on society and many issues than many older, Trump-friendly voters. The next GOP Presidential nominee not named Trump will clearly influence this, but no one should wait that long.

There are more possibilities for repairing a post-Trump Republican party than those three, but they’re a good foundation. One that requires laying and building upon now in anticipation of Trump departing the Oval Office, rather than waiting for that day to come and figuring out what to do once the final wreckage is smoldering on the ground in front of us.

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