Ride or die.
Support The Bulwark.
  Join Now
JVL
The Bulwark Presents
The Triad by JVL

The Theory of A.T. (After Trump)

Three theories of what the post-Trump GOP will look like.
July 22, 2020
Featured Image
U.S. President Donald Trump walks to the White House residence after exiting Marine one on South Lawn of the White House on July 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. The President traveled to the Atlanta, Georgia area to visit the UPS Hapeville Airport Hub and deliver remarks on infrastructure. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

1. AT: After Trump

There are basically three theories about what happens to the Republican party after Trump.

Theory #1 is that everything goes back to normal. The GOP reverts to being the party of the Chamber of Commerce and AEI and suburban country clubs across the land. Lower taxes, smaller government, and robust internationalism return as the party’s guide stars. Nobody really talks about Trump. Instead, they fulminate about those dastardly folks at the Lincoln Project and how awful Joe Biden is and they act as if the last four years never happened.

Theory #2 is that there’s a big internal fight between Republicans who want to go back to normal-ish—maybe with some modifications; maybe trying to form a new fusionism with some populist elements—and Republicans who want to keep pressing forward into the Glorious Trumpian Future of nationalism and identity politics.

If you believe in Theory #2, then you probably should not expect a war over Trump himself. Because there will not be any sort of market for Republicans who argue that Trump was a failure and that lessons ought to be learned from his failure. Instead, both sides will use a version of the argument that “real Trumpism has never been tried.” Both will try to claim the mantle of Trump. Both will insist that Trump was done in by unfair treatment by the media and Democrats and insufficiently loyal Republicans. Both will hold Trump up as an icon to be venerated and use his visage to try to further their ideas of what the party should be.

Theory #3 is that Trump is forever. As you know, this is where I have my chips.

Trump claims that he won the election and was cheated out of the White House. No Republicans make more than a demonstration of contradicting him. Most Republicans actively affirm his claim.

Trump continues to tweet about politics on an hourly basis, and many elected Republicans take their marching orders from him. The direction of the party continues to emanate from the person of Trump and fixates on grievances and the culture war.

Trump remains coy about running in 2024, saying things like, “A lot of people say I would win in a landslide if I ran again. We will see!” And when he says this, no elected Republicans will speak out to oppose the idea. In this view, the 2024 Republican primary race is only a shadow campaign in case Trump declines to run again.