Michael Swartz / Jan. 15, 2021

The Road Ahead for the GOP

The party has some serious soul-searching to do if it wants to remain relevant in the post-Trump era.

Aside from some unexpected victories in House races and some gains at the state level, the 2020 election and its aftermath have proven disastrous for the Republican Party — especially the dual Senate defeats in Georgia. The party now also has two factions: those who will go to the wall to defend President Donald Trump, and those who long for the times when the party’s agenda was more suitable to the Chamber of Commerce and the Beltway think tanks. Frankly, there’s a third group caught in between — genuine grassroots conservatives rooting for Trump’s agenda while being appalled by his methods. But the real battle is between the two factions.

The first clear sign of the GOP’s course came last week when the Republican National Committee selected its leadership for the next two years. Pro-Trump RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was reelected by acclamation, but her co-chair Tommy Hicks faced opposition from several candidates before prevailing to win another term. Even so, there were RNC members who worried that the party was going in the wrong direction.

“What’s our strategy for surviving and doing well in a post-Trump world?” asked New Jersey committeeman Bill Palatucci. “We don’t have a future as a party if we can’t win Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan. It’s an important self-examination we need to go through to figure out how we do better, and it is a waste of time to chalk it up to just saying, ‘It was stolen from us.’”

To that end, there were several possible 2024 GOP contenders at the RNC event, including popular governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and former UN Ambassador and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

At the RNC, McDaniel touted her 2020 fundraising and ground game, claiming the party raised a record amount and “talk[ed] to more voters — 182 million of them — than any other campaign in history.” But the Democrats made all that irrelevant when they greatly expanded mail-in balloting.

For example, as election lawyer J. Christian Adams noted back in December, “Two things happened [in the 2020 election]. First, COVID led to a dismantling of state election integrity laws by everyone except the one body with the constitutional prerogative to change the rules of electing the president — the state legislatures. Second, the Center for Technology and Civic Life happened. If you’re focused on goblins in the voting machines but don’t know anything about the CTCL and what they did to defeat Donald Trump, it’s time to up your game.”

The CTCL — which benefitted in large part from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his $350 million donation — gifted large sums to local election boards in key areas. “Hundreds of millions of private charitable dollars flowed into key urban county election offices in battleground states,” Adams explained. “The same private philanthropic largess did not reach red counties. Urban counties were able to revolutionize government election offices into Joe Biden turnout machines.”

Obviously, Facebook’s bias wasn’t just online, and it’s just as obvious that, despite Trump’s increased electoral success among urban minority voters, the enhanced turnout meant he was still fighting a losing battle. Moreover, the money never reached red counties because the donor wanted them to stay home.

It could well be that some of CTCL’s largesse, along with the hard work by Stacey Abrams, was the spark that rocketed Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to victory in Georgia. Abrams, as our Mark Alexander pointed out, helped register 115,000 new voters in time for the January runoff. In order to hold the Senate, Republicans had to turn out their own voters. Obviously, they failed.

So Democrats are excited, both at Trump’s defeat and the chance to hold a slim trifecta in the federal government for at least two years. For the moment, their moderate and progressive wings aren’t at each other’s throats — but just wait until the Harris-Biden administration is sworn in.

Yet for all the unity among Republicans preached by Chairwoman McDaniel, the reality is that folks are choosing sides. New York Representative Lee Zeldin seemed to embrace the establishment line by claiming Republicans in Congress had cause for optimism because of the Democrats’ slim majorities. But that’s not the fighting spirit Trump supporters are looking for.

Asking if the Republicans will go the way of the Whigs, writer and onetime CIA agent Sam Faddis opines that the populist wing of the GOP isn’t going anywhere.

“The reality,” he writes, “is that a great many of the ‘leaders’ in the GOP have always been uncomfortable with the principles of the populist movement sweeping the nation. … They did their best to conceal this reality as long as Donald Trump inhabited the White House. Sensing he is on his last legs; they conceal it no longer. Like the Whigs, they have misjudged the moment. Trump’s apparent defeat ends nothing. … The tens of millions of Americans seething with anger at COVID lockdowns, social media ‘thought police’ and dictatorial state governors are not going away. They have seen now the reality of the GOP establishment, and they will remember.”

Faddis is representative of many of Trump’s 74 million voters — the ones who showed up at his rallies and swarmed the polls on Election Day, eschewing the mail-in ballots to express their opinion in person. Because they weren’t necessarily loyal to the GOP before Trump, they’ll be the ones who abandon the party if it once again cozies up to the Beltway elites, the think tanks, and the connected insiders.

The Republican Party has lost the popular vote in all but one of this century’s six presidential elections, and the GOP risks becoming a regional party if changes aren’t made soon. Perhaps the Democrats are doing Republicans a favor by going pedal-to-the-metal with their socialist agenda, but the GOP can’t win by simply playing defense. Donald Trump was the candidate whose boldness on hot-button issues such as immigration and tax reform brought back those who became disillusioned when the Tea Party devolved to just another group of inside-the-Beltway grifters, and the Republican establishment cooled the fiery spirits of those the Tea Party helped to place in Congress.

Trump had crossover appeal between the populist and conservative wings of the GOP because he actually fought the Democrats. Think about it: They needed three years of a phony Russian influence scandal, an impeachment, a deadly Chinese virus that tanked a booming economy, and fraud-friendly mail-in balloting to barely defeat him in a few key swing states. He was an America-first president who millions of folks believe really loves our country.

Now that he’s on his way out the door, the question may become whether Donald Trump even stays in the Republican Party or goes “Teddy Roosevelt” by creating a new third party. Trump supporters who are furious with how congressional GOP members have sold him out on the 2020 election and Impeachment 2.0 are pleading their case for the creation of the Patriot Party, which would run on the working-class concerns for which Trump advocated and back him in a 2024 matchup with Kamala Harris.

If that happens, the GOP itself may be headed toward the dustbin of history.

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