GOP insiders agree that the future mostly depends on how willing the party is to reject “Trumpism” or if it will continue to embrace it.
Every major news agency has now declared that former Vice President Joe Biden defeated sitting President Donald Trump. The president and many in his party have refused to concede, but so far, they have been unable to provide concrete proof of election fraud. The fight over the election may yet continue for weeks, but the legal results are all but certain to confirm Biden won.
Even as the GOP wages a public war on the election results, some in the party are looking toward the future of the Republican Party. TMS reached out to multiple active Republicans to get their insights into what comes next for the party.
A few names – Senator Tim Scott, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – were bandied about as possible heads of the party going forward. Yet, these GOP insiders agree that the future mostly depends on how willing the party is to reject “Trumpism” or if it will continue to embrace it.
Is the future of the Republican Party populist?
Even as top Republican leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell side with Trump to sow doubt about the results of the election, other members of the party are looking forward.
David E. Johnson, the chief executive officer of Strategic Vision PR Group, is a leading Republican strategist based in Georgia, one of the states where the results are being contested. Johnson has overseen multiple campaigns for Republicans and has previously provided political insights for CNN and Fox News, among other major networks.
For Johnson, the future of the GOP is about choosing between Trump’s populism and the party’s establishment wing, made up of longtime party leaders.
“There are many faces that have emerged that could be the face of the Republican Party for 2024,” Johnson speculates. “The ones that stand out in particular are Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, [Senator] Josh Hawley, and [South Dakota Governor] Kristi Noem.”
To Johnson, what these names all have in common is an appeal to populism: a nebulous political ideology that pits the “will of the people” against entrenched political interests. Trump’s rhetoric of “draining the swamp” and his accusations that there is a “deep state” conspiracy against him have been ideal for gaining populist support (as well as for breeding conspiracy theories).
“All of these [politicians] could continue the populism of Trump without the disadvantages,” Johnson believes. “DeSantis in particular has been adept in developing a strong environmental stand that has helped him with independents and even some Republicans without losing the base.”
The future of “Trumpism”
While “populism” could broadly define Trump’s political philosophy, Trump is an idiosyncratic politician with a blunt and aggressively antagonistic style that is not easily replicated. This specific manner of political behavior mixed with a populist ideology is often referred to as “Trumpism” and it is at the root of Trump’s appeal.
However, with Trump having lost to the more politically traditional and even-keeled Biden, there are those in the party who worry that the continued embrace of Trumpism will be damaging to Republicans in the long-term.
This concern was voiced by Roman Lewis, a former political consultant and GOP operative who currently hosts “Roman Lewis Live” on the New York City-based talk radio network AM 970 “The Answer.” Lewis has worked on eight presidential campaigns and countless national and statewide campaigns.
“Usually,” Lewis explains, “when a party loses its bid for a second term in the White House, there is an internal reckoning, a hyper-thorough assessment of what went wrong and how to fix it. But much of the GOP is convinced that Trump’s team, which continues to cry fraud, did nothing wrong and that the majority of Americans embrace his politics, if not his childish, vitriolic behavior.”
For this reason, Lewis doubts the party will see the 2020 election as a repudiation of Trump and his political approach.
“I suspect, at least initially, that the GOP’s ideal 2024 candidate will not be more centrist; rather, a more rational, level-headed seasoned politician. Some of those who share much of Trump’s worldview and less of his bluster include Senator Ted Cruz, Nikki Haley and Senator Marco Rubio. If the GOP decides to pursue the Trumpiest of Trumpsters, it could go with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.”
Notably, while Lewis labels Rubio a populist choice, Johnson groups him in the Republican Party’s “establishment vein” alongside Senators Rick Scott and Tom Cotton. Though Rubio criticized Trump in the 2016 primary, calling him a “con artist,” he has since become one of the president’s most consistent supporters.
This could be seen as a reflection of how Trump has transformed (at least for the time being) the Republican Party into a de facto populist party, even as many of its leaders have been in office for multiple terms, even decades.
For instance, Scott, who has only been a senator since 2019, is hardly a new face in the party, having been the Republican governor of Florida from 2011 to 2019. Nonetheless, Johnson sees Scott as a more broadly palatable version of Trump and someone who clearly has his eyes on 2024.
“In many ways Scott is Trump without his hard-edge personality if you look at his record as governor. Scott has also been the most open in making moves to run by using his Super PAC to run commercials in key states and now running for the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairmanship in order to bank political capital for 2024.”
The Young Republicans
If the Republican Party wants to be relevant not just in 2024 but in the decades to come, it will have to continue nurturing younger members of the party. Based on preliminary voting data, it appears people aged 18 to 29 preferred Biden to Trump by a ratio of 2:1. Trump’s core support in that age group was white males. Tru Dabney hopes that won’t always be the case for Republican candidates.
Dabney is a political science major at American University in Washington, DC. He is a member of the American University College Republicans and an ambassador for Turning Point USA, the conservative action group founded by Charlie Kirk. Despite the loss, Dabney, who is Black, sees some hopeful signs for the Republican Party in the early data from the 2020 election.
“In this election,” Dabney says, “Trump had a better turnout in every demographic besides white males which I believe shows that the future of conservatism will be changing how we know it.”
It is too early to definitively state that Trump’s turnout with every demographic group improved, but it is true Trump had one bright spot in this election: Hispanic voters. Buoyed in part by voters in Florida, Trump does appear to have gained a substantial percentage of Hispanic voters over his 2016 totals.
“I do not believe the party will fully turn away from ‘Trumpism’,” Dabney explains, “however I do believe that some standpoints of the party on issues of immigration and race will have to change in order for the party to have better aspects of winning elections in the future.”
Dabney maintains that Trump’s ascension to the presidency cannot be forgotten, despite this recent loss.
“Trump has done an amazing job of mobilizing people whether it was to come out and vote, to come to his rallies, etc. His supporters are loyal and willing to support him in many different ways. I think he was able to do that by not only appealing to mostly disenfranchised white Americans who have felt unheard or ignored by established politicians but by also creating common enemies such as Washington, DC, aka ‘the swamp’, the media, etc.”
Dabney remains critical of the Democratic Party and believes African Americans have a reason to turn to the Republican Party.
“The Democratic Party feels as if they own the minority vote which makes a lot of minorities feel as if it gives the Democratic Party permission to lay back and not foster any real change as long as the pleasantries to minority communities continue. It is almost as if the Democratic Party has taken advantage of the fact that minorities are more likely to vote for them.”
Yet, Dabney also acknowledges how Trumpism might push away minority voters.
“I believe the ‘Trumpism’ style of rhetoric that appeals to the disenfranchised American can have its problems because it is perfect for racist Americans if the blame falls on minorities.”
The broad view that the GOP is racist is a serious issue for the party, Dabney admits. He believes, though, that he can play a part in helping change that perception.
“I am African American, and a large hope of mine is to spread conservative ideology not only to the youth but also to minority groups. I definitely believe that my race has informed my political view because I have seen firsthand the effects of many Democratic policies.”
Dabney is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which has had a Democrat mayor since 1934. He sees the African American community still struggling in modern America and believes that Democratic policies fail to address the underlying racial and social issues.
Dabney sees the future of the GOP in the work of political activists like Candace Owens and The Hodgetwins, Black conservatives who have advocated for a “Blexit” of Black voters from the Democratic Party. He also believes his own activism will play a part in helping change young minds about Republicans.
“Organizations like Turning Point USA are trying to increase the political involvement of the youth and spread conservatism on high school and college campuses. I believe that in order for the GOP to strengthen its support, there needs to be a critical shift from the current stereotypical view that many people have of the GOP.”
Following the 2016 election and Trump’s victory, the Democratic Party was forced to reckon with its failures. Many felt the party’s nomination of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a mistake because she was too centrist. Prior to the election, some left-leaning pundits argued that Biden would also lose because he was merely “Clinton 2.0.”
Yet, Biden appears to have been the right choice this time. Now the next few years will give Republicans a similar decision to make in 2024: stick with Trumpism or change direction. David Johnson suspects Trumpism, in whatever form it takes, will likely be a front-runner in the next election.
“Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. are the two wildcards in any Republican calculations,” Johnson states. “President Trump would clear the Republican field at this point and have a clear shot at the nomination.”
In fact, there have been reports that the president is already eyeing a run in 2024. Some betting markets have already given him decent odds for winning, followed by his eldest son and his daughter, Ivanka.
Only once before has a president lost a reelection bid and come back to win four years later. President Grover Cleveland served from 1885 to 1889, then returned to the White House from 1893 to 1897.
Regardless of whether Trump or any member of his family makes a future presidential run, Roman Lewis is worried the GOP will take the wrong lessons away from Trump’s victory in 2016.
“I liken Trump’s ascent to the White House and the GOP reactionism that followed to that of [conservative talk radio host] Rush Limbaugh’s rise to fame in the early 1990s. There will be countless Trump wannabes, just as there were a million Rush rip-offs. But those who tried to emulate Limbaugh focused far too much on his politics and less on his entertainment value, and, as importantly, lacked Limbaugh’s charisma and hilarity.
“I suspect the GOP will make the same mistake as it looks for a Trump replacement. But Trump’s appeal wasn’t his policy as much as it was his panache, his flair for the dramatic, his witty, if not puerile one-liners and funny retorts. No candidate possesses all of that, but one man, Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, is certainly in the conversation.”
Have a tip or story? Get in touch with our reporters at [email protected]