The GOP Has Been Trumped

Trying to blog the Last Days of Trump is a tad overwhelming. Events are coming too fast; it’s like being slammed by a tsunami every day. But I try to pick out one digestible thing to look at.

Here are a couple of columns that point to the same thing — the near total Trumpification of the Republican Party. Trump lost, but election data show us that his being on the ticket helped down-ticket Republicans anyway.

At WaPo, E.J. Dionne compares the blue wave of 2018 to the results of 2020. In 2018, turnout in metro areas and among people with college educations rose much higher than in rural areas and among the less educated. “When you look at where the big 2018 turnout increase came from,” Dionne writes, “it’s obvious that Democratic-leaning constituencies intent on punishing Trump far outperformed Trump’s core constituencies, perhaps because Trump himself was not on the ballot.” Dionne continues,

But in 2020, Trump voters came out in droves and thus boosted down-ballot Republicans. Trump won over 10 million more votes in 2020 than in 2016 — exit polls suggest that 6.5 million of his ballots came from first-time voters — which means he brought new supporters into the electorate who were important to this year’s House GOP victories.

As one Democratic strategist noted, “2018 was a wave year because our people showed up and theirs didn’t. 2020 was like a reversion to the mean because both sides showed up and right now we’re feeling the whiplash because no public or private data saw it coming.”

Given that it’s unlikely Donald Trump will ever appear on a ballot again, what will this mean for the Republican party?

Going forward, figuring out how Trump won an additional 10 million votes is one of the most important questions in politics. Here’s a plausible and discouraging theory: Given Trump’s intemperate and often wild ranting in the campaign’s final weeks and the growing public role in GOP politics of QAnon conspiracists, the Proud Boys and other previously marginal extremist groups, these voters may well be more radical than the party as a whole. This means that Republicans looking to the future may be more focused on keeping such Trump loyalists in the electorate than on backing away from his abuses.

Trump’s bitterest harvest could thus be a Republican Party with absolutely no interest in a more moderate course and every reason to keep its supporters angry and on edge. Ignoring reality and denying Trump’s defeat are part of that effort.

At the Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein comes to a similar conclusion. He writes that the recent congressional results tracked very closely to presidential results; only a small percentage of voters chose a president and congressperson of different parties.

Just as in 2016, Democrats this year did not win a single Senate seat in a state that Trump carried. Similarly, Susan Collins in Maine was the only Republican Senate candidate to win a state Trump lost. Final data in many states aren’t yet available, but Trump likely carried most of the Democratic-held House seats that Republicans flipped.

And if Republican voters believe, as a large percentage of them do, that Biden stole the election from Trump, those senators are not likely to go along with the reach-across-the-aisle thing. They will more likely please their constituents by blocking everything the Biden administration tries to do.

Brownstein interviews Bill Kristol, who for once may have a clue:

Overall, Kristol said, the election’s unexpectedly mixed results, with Republican congressional gains offsetting Trump’s defeat, have diminished the audience in the party for reconsidering Trumpism. Among congressional Republicans, the dominant interpretation of the results “is we paid no price for being Trump enablers or even apologists or even pale versions of Trump at times,” Kristol told me. “They think they are going to win the House in 2022, have a good shot at the presidency in 2024, and probably hold the Senate. Therefore, what do they have to do? They think they basically move ahead, business as usual, no repudiation, no rethinking, no fundamental recalibration.”

It’s also the case that if Trump is not ruined by all the legal trouble he’s in, he will continue to pull strings in the Republican party, acting as a kingmaker.

In the long run this stay-the-course strategy could turn out to be a bad decision for Republicans. For one thing, Trump really did lose.

As the vote counting continues, Biden’s lead has stretched to nearly 6 million votes, a larger raw-vote victory than Obama had in 2012. Trump can point to his continued dominance among non-college-educated white voters and his modest, but meaningful, gains among nonwhite voters as validation of his direction. But Republicans uneasy about his influence can find plenty of contrary trends that raise doubts about his ability to win another presidential election, including his weak performance among younger voters; the consolidation of well-educated, diverse, and prospering metro areas against him; and Biden’s ability not only to recapture key Rust Belt states but also to break through in Sun Belt battlegrounds.

But Republican office holders are looking to the next election, the 2022 midterms, and they are betting on a failed Biden administration to put them back in the congressional driver’s seat. So most of them will shamelessly support Trump’s claim that he was the rightful winner of the election, and once the Biden administration begins they will pull every trick they know how to pull to make Biden fail.

We may yet win the George Senate runoff elections. Trump isn’t on the ticket, after all. And, going forward, this tension may eventually cause the crack-up of the old GOP and a massive political realignment. But it’s going to be very, very messy.

See also:

Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post, Trump and Giuliani are the Republican Party

Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post, GOP leaders’ embrace of Trump’s refusal to concede fits pattern of rising authoritarianism, data shows

David Smith, Guardian/Observer, Trump will cast a long shadow over Republican party despite defeat

Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times, Trump Lost the Race. But Republicans Know It’s Still His Party.

Jonathan Last, The New Republic, The Republican Party Is Dead. It’s the Trump Cult Now.

Dahlia Lithwick, Slate, Trump Is No Longer the Problem. His Army of Followers Is.