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After Trump, Revisited

In a strong column, Michael Brendan Dougherty writes [1] that “there are reasons to believe this moment is unsustainable and the basic status quo of the Republican Party will eventually emerge triumphant.”

The party has been unable to co-opt Trump, unable to endorse him, unable to oppose him effectively. But Trump is not going to bequeath to Republicans a squadron of Trumpistas in Congress. He is not going to build the kind of institutions that ideologues use to pressure a major political party. He’s just going to make a spectacle of himself. Barring a black swan event, he will fade away.

The GOP will still have all the problems that pre-dated Trump and that only he exposed. A plurality of its voters will still be unsatisfied with the party’s agenda, especially on the economy. It will still have problems with young voters, and still have a long-term demographic problem. Its philosophy will still be outdated.

But by 2018, all the talk of bloodbaths and schisms and fracturing will go away. The party will have powers to exercise, sinecures to offer, and orthodoxies to protect again. The party will get out of its hospital ward and move on. It will shock you how much it never happened.

As might be expected, I like this argument, since I have made it myself [2]. In that post I wrote, “I would be very grateful if some wise person who is convinced that Trump is permanently changing the GOP would explain to me the mechanisms by which this change will be effected.” The power of incumbency is great, and not just in elected office. I expect the people who run the GOP now to be running it in 2020.

But I want to suggest one factor that might complicate the long-term effects of Trump. If he wins the party nomination — and Dougherty’s argument assumes that that is likely, though not inevitable — Republican politicians will have to decide whether to support him. And anyone who does, anyone who speaks up on Trump’s behalf and encourages voters to choose him in preference to Hillary Clinton, will carry that albatross around his or her neck permanently.

Among the major figures in the Republican Party, the one least likely to defend, endorse, or support Trump is surely Marco Rubio. (A point recently reinforced [3].) And if Rubio denounces Trump, or just stays silent, then that will significantly increase the likelihood of the scenario I imagined in that earlier post: an essentially intact GOP leadership in 2018 wheeling out as their preferred candidate a four-years-older, four-years-wiser, four-years-more-seasoned Marco Rubio.