Where now for the Republican party?

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For the past four years, the Republican party has been taken over by Trump and his brand of populist politics, which has shaken the way we view American politics. The GOP have stood by their President through thick and thin, often aiming to avoid questions or divert attention away from his unusual and often unconstitutional behaviour, despite the fact that many Republican legislators, such as Lindsey Graham, Nikki Haley and Marco Rubio, having been very critical of Trump’s racist, sexist and xenophobic language prior to his nomination as the Republican candidate in 2016. Given this, you wouldn’t have been wrong to believe that they would have crossed the line over Trump’s attempts to undermine the result of the 2020 election through an illegal coup through the courts, by floating unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. However, the opposite has happened. Bar a select few Republicans, such as Senator Mitt Romney (Utah) or Governor Hogan (Maryland), most Republicans have hesitated to recognise president-elect Biden as the winner of the election, instead choosing to encourage Trump’s baseless claims of electoral fraud. However, after the Supreme Court outright rejected two different legal challenges in the past week, Republicans know deep down that Trump will be out of the White House come 20th of January. The end of Trump in the White House will leave a large question for the Republican party, of whether they can survive in an America which is rapidly developing and changing socially away from the politics of their party.

The first thing they have to come to grasp with is that Trump won’t be going away. Trump won the second most votes ever for a Presidential candidate in the 2020 election, and the devotion he attracts from his core supporters is undoubtedly impressive, if a little scary. Trump represented an anti-establishment candidate who would go against the system many blue-collar workers felt had betrayed them the past few decades, even if it has driven away some college educated suburban white voters. The Republicans know that these blue collar supporters are not Republicans, but rather Trump devotees. They know that if they push Trumpism out of the party, they risk losing a large proportion of the vote they gained under Trump. Thus, Trump will continue to heavily influence the GOP, and undoubtedly the GOP will continue to carry the flag of Trumpism.

The Republican party was once viewed as a party of ¬†wealthy, religious and big business America, with policies such as reducing government debt, increasing global trade and encouraging traditional family values. They were perhaps viewed as the boring but steady party, who would keep order and sanity to the country. Those days are gone under Trump. Trump has blown the government debt higher than ever, pulled the US out of trade deals with other nations, and while he proclaims himself to be a Christian, he is a three time married man who has had affairs with porn stars. Those ideals and policies aren’t going away after Trump leaves office. In fact, Trumpism will likely dominate the Republican party for the next decade, or at a minimum be a loud minority voice within the party. Trump isn’t going away quietly, and neither are his diehard supporters, as his twitter account and his threat of creating his own news network (funnily enough titled “Trump News”), will keep his influence strongly within the mainstream. Trump personally may be indicted after he leaves office, given the debt he owes and the taxes he has failed to pay, and that may shut him up. However, his Republican supporters within congress and state legislatures that have been newly elected since 2016, will carry the flag of Trumpism on too.

The Republican establishment, which has supported and defended Trump through every racist comment, scandal and foreign policy mishap, are now trying to figure out how to fix the reputation of their party, whilst also appeasing Trump fans. The party are stuck between decency and electoral success at this point, and while they’ve chosen electoral success over the last 4 years, that may not exactly come through Trumpism any longer.

The Republican party is going to have to change as America changes. The Republican party finds it’s electoral success amongst mostly white working class people. However, by 2050, the US will be a minority majority country, and while Trump managed to increase his votes amongst every ethnic group this election bar white men, his numbers are insufficient still to consider his brand of politics the way forward for the Republican party. As the electorate’s demographics change rapidly in America, many presume the Republican party will become dead in the water, with it’s brand of politics clearly not appealing, and quite often disparaging, to African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans in the US. That will not be the case. The Republican party’s current polices may become unelectable in the future, but the Republican party will still remain. As have conservative parties in the UK and Canada, they will have to evolve far more centrally and into a far more electable positions. Their days of cloaking voter suppression, through former felony voting or voting ID laws, with the idea their protecting the country from voter fraud, will be insufficient in the coming years. Instead of suppressing the votes of ethnic minorities, they’re going to have to start winning those votes. This means their party has to begin recognising the severity of racism within the US, including the criminal justice system, they will have to start recognising climate change to be a real threat and they will have to take up a more progressive line on healthcare. Only in this way will the Republican party survive in the long term future, as their current hard-line conservativism and populism under Trump will become unelectable. Frankly, it’s already unelectable in a Presidential race, as Trump has lost the popular vote twice, with the electoral college being his only saving grace in 2016.

On the other hand, the Republican party shouldn’t be disheartened by the election results, even if the executive branch is out of their hands. Looking into the more immediate future, the Republican party will feel somewhat buoyed after the election, even if they lost the Presidency. They weren’t wiped out in the House of Representatives, in fact they managed to gain seats, and they have a strong chance of winning both seats in the Georgia run-off election, meaning that they could heavily influence the picks Biden makes in his cabinet. The Republicans will look to win the House back in 2022, which given precedent before them, they should do so easily. They will hope to influence Biden’s policies on a number of issues, and they will hope to block out the more progressive wing of the Democrat party from gaining too much influence. By 2024, the Republican establishment will be relatively optimistic going into the election. While it is unusual for a sitting President to be ousted in their bid for re-election, Biden will be tested on his performance of managing to recover the economy post Covid, and his ability to roll out a vaccine to 350 million Americans in a matter of months, and that’s even if he will run. Biden, given his age, may choose to be a one-term President, paving the way for either his VP Kamala Harris, or another challenger within the Democrat party, to take his place. If such a scenario takes place where there is an actual competitive primary race within the Democrat party, then the Republicans will stand a real chance of capitalising, as the Democrat party may be viewed as being in disarray and as disunited.

That begs the question then, who will run in 2024 for the Republican nomination? Well, it would be hard to discount a Trump comeback, whether that be through Donald Trump himself or his children, as 50% of the party are said to be supportive of Trump running again in 2024. The only set back to a Donald Trump comeback would either be a health complication, given his age and obesity, or a possible run-in with the law he would face in New York for his shady business deals and his failure to pay the taxes he owes. Other candidates that are expected to run range from moderates such as Governor Larry Hogan, to Libertarians such as Senator Rand Paul. It’s also likely that non-politicians, that have made their name in business or entertainment may run given Trump’s success. Perhaps Kanye West may run. However, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Republican party choose a mainstream establishment candidate, through Marco Rubio or Chris Christie, who they may find to be far more electable and appealing to both moderate voters and die-hard Trump devotees.

The Republican party will undoubtedly have to change and adapt in the long term to a country which is changing, for them, in the wrong direction. However, looking into the immediate future, the only conceivable threat that faces them from influencing Federal policy would be losses in both Senate race run-offs in Georgia in January, and the threat of Trump’s stranglehold remaining over them. The Republican party by no means lost in November, even if they did lose the Presidential race, but the election was a warning sign to the Republican party that they’re brand of politics is becoming less electable, as shown by the fact that since 1992, the Republicans have only won one of nine elections by the popular vote. They wont be able to rely on the flawed electoral college system much longer, meaning they have to move their brand of politics more centrally, or risk becoming dead in the water.