Despite the incumbent president’s recent loss, Trumpism looks set to continue to dominate the republican party. However, as the President increasingly turns his vicious hyperbole towards the USA’s democratic institutions and structures he risks pushing the party further away from his ideals.
Over the last five years Donald Trump has coerced, seduced and smashed the Republican party into submission. In doing so he has built a support base of over 70 million Americans and has been the only Republican candidate to win an election since George W. Bush in 2004. He received more votes than any candidate to lose an election in US history. The task facing the Republicans now is how to continue Trumpism without Trump.
A combative foreign policy approach that places American interests first and relies more on strongarm coercion than incentive and reward struck a chord with voters. Especially rural republicans and those in the Rust belt. Biden did win back Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin but it was close and Republicans will remember the advantages of turning those states red in 2016.
The re-evaluation of the US’s relationship with China, direct action against Iran – including the assasination of General Qasem Soleimani – and a Twitter showdown with Kim Jong Un are examples of Trump’s confrontational diplomacy. While they may not have been overtly successful in realpolitik terms they did play well with his base.
While the Republican party will downplay Twitter feuds with foreign dictators, Trump’s approach to China and his incentives for States to formally recognise Israel, such as removing Sudan from the list of state sponsers of terrorism, could remain pillars of their foreign policy outlook.
Arguably, Trump’s greatest achievement was his economic policies. Deregulation and tax breaks lead to a growth in employment numbers and boosts to the stock market. The growth in employment since lockdown in March has been greater than expected. While real-term wages didn’t increase, stock market success and high employment certainly gave the illusion of growth.
American’s by enlarge vote for the economy. On election day 33% of voters said it was the most important issue. If Covid-19 had not undermined Trump’s economic achievements, he would have been in a much stronger position to win re-election. As a general rule of thumb, incumbents don’t lose when the economy is strong. Then again – Trump makes his own rules.
The elephant in the room when discussing the legacy of Trumpism however is, of course, Trump as an individual. The most divisive political figure in US political history. His complete disregard for rules, convention, common decency or neutrality earned him his base and defeated Hillary Clinton.
His thinly veiled white supremacism may well disgust some in the Republican party but that’s not the conventional disregard they will have issue with. Rather, it is his disregard for the institutions of democracy and his very public refusal to accept defeat.
It’s easy to underestimate the value in the symbolism of US democracy worldwide. Throughout the next decade American power will wain and others will rise. The strength of America’s democratic institutions and the legitimacy they derive from that underpins the identity they present to the world. It is a currency no other global power has. Mr Trump is currently trying his best to tarnish this.
Loyalists, such as Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, have come out in support of Mr Trump’s legal challenges, but the majority have remained quiet. The only senators to congratulate Mr Biden are Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney, who told NBC the President has “a relatively relaxed relationship with the truth.” But as the president’s legal challenges fail expect the party’s public disavowal to grow louder.
Mr Trump broke all conventions in 2016 and continued to do so during his premiership. He dragged the Republican party along with him and gave them their greatest success in a generation. There is treasure to salvage from the wreckage left by Trump. But any attempt to break election convention and tarnish the democratic process will not be allowed to stand. As his legal challenges fall so will his grip on the party.
The veracity with which Trump contests his loss will underpin the longevity of his presence within the Republican party. If he were to concede and stand down, he could remain a prominent figure in the Republican party. But if he continues to challenge the legitimacy of US democracy, the party will be forced to distance themselves further.
Words by Arthur Mytum