The Parties’ Future

Assume that the media is correct and Joe Biden has won America’s Presidential election and will be inaugurated as America’s 46th President on January 20th.  If so, he would owe his relatively narrow victory to heavy voter turnout among three disparate constituencies:  traditional Democratic Party voters; anyone-but-Trump Republicans; and socialists and left-of-center Independents who determined to unite behind a candidate other than Bernie Sanders who is not … Donald Trump.  That unusual, one-off coalition may imply a challenging future for the Democratic Party.  An alliance based on an eroding Democratic base cobbled together based on a “Never Trump” candidate is unlikely to continue as the majority party for very long.  Although Vice President Biden captured >74 million Presidential votes – more than any prior Presidential candidate and >4 million more than President Trump –, Democrats in 2020 apparently failed to persuade enough Americans that they simultaneously should be trusted with control of the Senate.  Another negative sign is that Democrats saw their House majority reduced by ~7-11 seats.  Despite prognostications of a landside victory – based by some on Constitutional concerns, others on the Republican Party’s abandonment of its traditional policy foundations, and still others on the ravages of Covid-19 –, the American public most definitely did not endorse a Blue Wave in 2020.  Democrats also didn’t capture even a single state legislature …, which means that Republicans will be gerrymandering a majority of America’s States for at least the next 10 years (see and ).  That raises a high, and long-term, electoral bar for the Democratic Party.  Without the twin Election Year debacles of Covid-19 and economic recession, President Trump undoubtedly would have glided to re-election …, leading to the inescapable conclusion that the Democratic Party is destined for precipitous decline, doomed to fracture into its component constituencies.  That may indeed become reality despite President Trump’s apparent defeat.

But the Republican Party has issues of its own …, the traditional Republican Party, that is.  Having been captured by Trumpism – it’s now the Party of Trump –, it will have to move forward without a dominant President and, possibly, also without a Senate majority (a determination that awaits Georgia’s two Senatorial elections on January 5th).  And, yet, Trumpism is not going to disappear solely because Donald Trump no longer is America’s President, at least not as long as Donald Trump has something to say about it …, and he very much intends to have that say.

During the 20th and early 21st Centuries, the Republican Party stood for a conservativism that incorporated an affirmation of capitalism and a sort-of Adam Smith individualism to which American democracy and the American economic model owed their stunning success.  Classic Republican conservatism relied on three essential elements:  fiscal restraint; a belief in traditional Judeo-Christian values; and a belief in American global leadership based on a strong national defense.  In adopting a brand of Republicanism represented by Bill Buckley and Ronald Reagan, traditional Republicans rejected the intrusion of government into business and the lives of Americans as a path from nationalism to nationalization, a path that would result in the regulation-of-everything and an over-emphasis on Central Control over States’ and Individuals’ Rights.  They firmly rejected such “Statism” (see

That changed in 2016 with the election of Donald Trump.  Trumpism doesn’t adhere to traditional conservative values.  It relies on rejecting traditionalism and classic Tea Party conservatism.  In his inaugural address, Trump spoke of ending the “American carnage” that had been caused by his predecessors (including Republicans), invoking the advent of “a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.”  He was true to his word.  During his Presidency, America’s government successfully extended Federal control over major industries and markets, exercising a level of executive power “the likes of which” America indeed had never seen before … and which America’s classic conservatives decried before they converted to Trumpism.  Laws on the books all-too-often were enforced uniquely or re reinterpreted … at least at that moment.  There was no attempt at fundamental reform through traditional legislative-and-executive law-making and no belief in the authority of precedents, legal or in Presidential practice.  Instead of working with Congress to change and rein-in regulators and regulations for the long-term, the Trump Administrative primarily targeted Obama-era regulations, sometimes by expanding Federal power through Presidential decree, other times backing judicial challenges to existing laws or regulations, and yet other times by not enforcing laws or regulations, sometimes legally and other times questionably.  Trumpism came to be a slogan that stood for a variety of slogans, “America First,” “draining the swamp,” “Making American Great Again,” “Joining the Trump Train” and, as the 2020 Republican Party platform, “Making America Even Greater,” as well as a repository for conspiracy theories revolving around battling an amorphous, but dangerous, “deep state” and ranging to extremes characterized by QAnon and Alex Jones (who appeared last week at a Maricopa County, AZ, ballot-counting center and told the crowd that “The Bidens are Communist Chinese agents”).  Long-term conservative policy-making requires enacting and ensuring durable change.  It is likely that most of the changes wrought during the Trump years will be reversed during the Biden ones, which is not what Trump supporters expected from Trumpism.  While its own carnage accomplishments therefore may vanish over the next several years, the Party of Trump is likely to endure.

Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee Chairman in 2016, accurately predicted the Trumpian future.  The Republican Party, he pointed out, is not the party of Reagan or Lincoln or Bush.  “It’s the party’s party,” he said.  That is, “The party defines the party,” and the Party for the last four years has been defined by Donald Trump’s dominant leadership.  Trump’s Presidency marked a profound break with the American politics that had been practiced for the prior 240 years.  A Republican Party that previously had championed free trade backed Trump when he imposed tariffs and criticized trade deals.  That policy alone drew new adherents to Trumpism (a lesson in Statism that Democrats also may embrace).  It created a bigger Republican tent.  A Republican Party that had championed global leadership fell into line when Trump accused NATO allies of freeloading off the United States.  It applauded America’s military withdrawals from its anti-ISIS Middle East commitments and its abandonment of its Kurdish and Syrian allies.  It was unimpressed by Turkey’s rejection of America and NATO, its military adventures in Syria, Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean, and its purchase of a Russian defense system.  And it failed to balk when the Trump Administration abandoned the longtime Republican hardline regarding the Soviet Empire and Russia.  A Republican Party that previously had embraced immigrants and had itself supported immigration reform had nothing to say when its President attacked immigration and excluded racially- and religiously-profiled immigrants.  It was silent when the Trump Administration forcibly separated immigrant children from their families.  The Party indeed defines the Party.  Trumpism’s takeover of the Republican Party has been total.  Those Party members who didn’t fall into line departed either willingly (like Paul Ryan) or unwillingly (like Jeff Sessions).  Trumpism, the cult of Donald Trump, co-opted practically every power center in the Republican Party, from local office, to State-wide officials, to Congress and the media.  The great majority of those Republican elected officials who successfully ran for office in 2020 did so by being vocal Trump loyalists.  As Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia stated in her ads, she had a “100 percent Trump voting record.”  “The party right now is just Trump, right?” said one senior GOP aide.  “So when you take him out of it, what do we have left?”

That is now the question following the assumed Biden election victory.  It is clear, however, that President Trump will not allow himself “to be taken out of it.”  In his re-election bid, he received the votes of >70 million Americans, ~48% of the votes cast.  Those supporters are not likely to abandon him unless he abandons them.  He has >88 million Twitter followers and is the most-accomplished media personality on Earth.  Not to be overlooked as well is that he has the option of running for President again in 2024.  Who would pass up the opportunity to make history by attempting something that no other American President has accomplished.  As former Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona said, “If anything is clear from the election results, it is that the president has a huge following, and he doesn’t intend to exit the stage anytime soon.”

What this means for traditional Republicans, those who crossed party lines to vote for Joe Biden, is that they will remain party-less for the foreseeable future unless … they’re persuaded otherwise.  Classic Republican Party adherents have no ability to revive the Republican Party’s traditional priorities.  The Party’s priorities will remain those of Trumpism, as will Republican voter preferences.

The Democratic Party’s successful 2020 coalition, weak as it is, therefore may have the ability to lure disaffected traditional Republicans …, but only if the Democratic Party adopts policies that create a far bigger tent – a HUGE Tent.  The dream of a Democratic Party in future disarray undoubtedly is compelling to some.  Although a real risk, it could be successfully addressed by visionary Democratic politicians who adopt policies that appeal to a broader cross-section of the voting public …, optimally by adopting a range of single-issue policies that draw voters from a variety of 21st Century constituencies.  Doing so would require a Democratic Party realignment and a jarring readjustment to a changing, post-Covid-19, post-Trump, post-recession, working-from-home electorate.

The continued strength of Trumpism – without a President Trump – will require a Republican Party realignment.  Its success initially will require a politically-active Donald Trump Sr. and Donald Trump Jr.? Ivanka Kushner?.  The future direction of Republicanism depends on that leadership.  To retain a two-party democracy, the Democratic Party must quickly find a successor or successors to Joe Biden, one who possesses both vision and media charisma.  None has yet appeared.  In the absence of successors to Trump and Biden who provide fresh leadership, both Parties may fracture into their component parts, with Republicans choosing between Trumpism and classic Republicanism, and Democrats splitting into Biden and Sanders factions.  The risk is not merely political chaos.  The risk is to democracy itself, and to American two-party democracy and, critically, to America’s future generations.

Finally (from a good friend)

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