Is the Republican Party prepared to move past Donald Trump—and what would that look like?
Though it’s hard to remember now, prior to Trump’s presidency the GOP had actually wanted to open itself up and conduct outreach to marginalized groups. Republican powerbrokers felt that competing in the future would require a more diverse slate of candidates listening to the concerns of diverse communities.
Trump’s victory reversed all of that, giving the white party base more control than ever.
That hasn’t stopped some Republicans from trying to move past the former President, a monumental task. Trump remains highly popular with Republican voters, and he has wielded this power to become a kingmaker in conservative politics. Still, some former Trump allies have attempted to move the party away from his influence. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has argued that Trump’s leadership is a losing formula for Republicans. “If we waste our time as Republicans talking about an election that we lost,” he said, “we are going to lose future elections.”
Christie and other “post-Trump” Republicans would like the party to return to its free-trade roots, and have more of a moral voice. Trump turned the Republican Party from an ideological focus to a populist one. He did not have a concrete set of policy positions and often shifted his stance on a given policy several times. But Trump never wavered in his “us vs. them” mentality, casting immigrants and liberal elites as the enemy.
Getting the Republican base away from Trump’s vision of the party won’t be easy. Even if Trump doesn’t (or can’t) run, the 2024 Republican nominee is more likely to sound like Trump than a Mitt Romney or John McCain. This can be seen by the Republican base’s rejection of party members who have stood up to Trump. Adam Kinzinger, who voted for Trump’s impeachment in Congress and has broadly opposed the former President’s message, is retiring from Congress. The Wyoming GOP voted not to even recognize Trump critic Liz Cheney as a Republican.
There will be an effort from anti-Trump forces to move the Republican Party beyond his brand of politics. But the effort is likely to fail for the simplest of political reasons: Trump and the politics he represents remain hugely popular with Republican voters. The base wants the party to take Trump’s stances on immigration, police, the military, and trade. They want a party that is anti-expertise, anti-higher education, skeptical of vaccines, and highly religious.
Even if Trump himself is not in the 2024 primary, it’s hard to see how the party moves past him.