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Where Will the GOP Go After Trump?

After a Trump loss, the "back to Bushism" impulse will be even stronger than it was four years ago.
George W. Bush headshot

I agree with Alan Jacobs and Michael Brendan Dougherty that the GOP will be remarkably unchanged by having Trump as its nominee. If there is one rule that seems to govern the modern Republican Party, it is that its leaders learn little or nothing from disaster and reliably draw the wrong conclusions from their defeats. We saw that in the wake of the 2012 election, when party leaders and donors concluded that the only significant fix needed for the party’s problems was to embrace immigration legislation opposed by most Republicans. The idea that the GOP would benefit politically by pushing its donors’ agenda harder and aligning with corporate interests even more than it already had never made sense, but that was the lesson the strategists insisted on drawing from Romney’s loss. They took the one thing that distinguished Romney from Bush and decided that it was the big liability that needed to go.

These leaders and donors had no problem with the rest of Bushism, and saw no reason to repudiate perpetual war, constant meddling overseas, corporatism, or an outdated economic agenda that was irrelevant to most voters. Assuming Trump is the nominee and goes on to lose badly, we can be reasonably sure that the “back to Bushism” impulse will be even stronger than it was four years ago. That would be a horrible mistake, but the GOP has a knack for making those.

I’m a bit more skeptical than Jacobs that anti-Trump Republicans will go back to the Rubio well a second time. He writes:

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.) 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.

That’s certainly possible, but somehow I doubt it. Rubio won’t finish the year as the runner-up to Trump or even a strong third-place “winner” in the delegate count. His effort to hang on to his delegates seems more like a desperate bid for relevance than the foundation of a future political comeback. The senator will be a little older and possibly even wiser in two years (when the next presidential campaign will effectively begin), but he’ll no longer be a senator and all of the same problems he had this year will remain. Assuming that he even wants to run for office again, he would do better to try to rebuild his career in Florida before pursuing the presidential nomination again, and after his failed campaign this year he is likely to have far fewer boosters in the future than he had this time around. I’m a confirmed Rubio-skeptic, so I may be missing something here, but even if the GOP is foolish enough to think reviving Bushism is the post-2016 answer I don’t think they will want to go back to the same messenger who tried and failed to revive it this year.



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