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Burn It All Down, Redux

What if Trumpism *is* the "reformed" version of the Republican party?
July 30, 2020
Burn It All Down, Redux

We have two more entries in the big anti-Trump schism concerning the wisdom/morality/what have you of seeing Trump-supporting senators who acted dishonorably sent packing.

My friend Mona Charen is in the “they need to hit rock bottom” camp.

My friend Ramesh Ponnuru is in the “babies and bathwater” camp.

But I want to focus on a very deep point Ramesh makes:

Most of the people who vote for a post-Trump Republican candidate in 2024 are going to be people who voted for Trump. Any competitive center-right party after Trump will by necessity represent substantially the same voters who put him into power in November 2016 and have sustained him in it since then. Any strategy for changing the Republican Party that fails to reckon with that fact is doomed. This reality may point to another division among the never Trumpers. There are those who didn’t vote for Trump and favored his removal by Congress who are willing to concede that intelligent and well-meaning conservatives could disagree with them. And then there are those whose objections to Trump run so hot that they cannot countenance being part of a coalition with people who backed him (with exceptions for those who apologize for their past support).

That second group of never Trumpers is not going to be part of a new, reformed Republican Party that meets their standards. Its members should probably resign themselves to becoming Democrats, or politically homeless, for the foreseeable future. And they should consider whether what’s really behind their calls to burn down the Republican Party is a wish to escape the reality of America’s political disagreements.

Ramesh is certainly correct about a couple things here:

(1) The people who voted for Trump aren’t going anywhere. They are the Republican party.

(2) The people who think Republican senators ought to lose are not going to be part of any reformed Republican party.

But he leaves one question just kind of hanging out there, unasked and unanswered: What about that first group of never Trump Republicans he mentions? The people who oppose Trump, but who very dearly wish to keep Susan Collins—will they be part of any reformed future Republican party, either?

I doubt that very much.

Why? Ask Jeff Sessions.

And also because the Republican party as it exists right now is the reformed Republican party. Or at least, the party that has been “reformed” from its previous incarnation as a fusionist balance between low-tax, small-government fiscal conservatives, interventionist hawks, and social conservatives.

The Reformicons wanted a party that looked like Wal-Mart and not Wall Street. And boy, howdy, does today’s GOP look like Wal-Mart.

I joke, sort of, because I was very much in favor of the Reformicon agenda. But it now seems to me that it was probably inevitable that when the GOP “reformed” along populist lines it would not be Ross Douthat and Yuval Levin who were put in charge. It would be Stephen Miller and Seb Gorka and Peter Navarro. Because—and this is the crucial part—that’s what Republican voters want.

And a party can only be as good as its voters let it be.

My main point of disagreement with Ramesh is in our outlooks for the future of the Republican party. Ramesh thinks that there will be a battle for the soul of the party while I think that battle has already taken place. And that the future of the party is more white nationalism, more identity politics grievance mongering, and more Qanon.

Maybe Ramesh is right—I hope that he is right! Because America is going to have two political parties no matter what and having one of them be malignant is bad news for everyone.

But if one of them is malignant—if it has changed in such as way as to work against the rule of law, be supportive of proto-authoritarianism, and be a magnet for, and spreader of, racial animosity—then I’m not sure what the advantage is in propping it up, even if it does occasionally provide a policy outcome one finds congenial.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.