Last week’s Democratic Convention was a platitude-heavy and, at times, dull affair that focused almost singularly on defeating Trump and returning to ‘normalcy’. This focus is the result of a party who, at every level (from rank-and-file members to party leaders), see Trump as a unique evil through which all bad things stem. While the Convention’s theme was ‘We The People’, it could just have easily have been ‘back to the future’.
As of writing, the RNC hasn’t yet commenced, but I’m willing to bet that it will be the opposite of what the Democratic National Convention was. Instead, of being somewhat unremarkable and focusing on stability, 2020’s RNC will instead be the embodiment of the chaos and lunacy that has defined the last four years. The four night affair will be centred around a President who, in the face of declining re-election prospects, is becoming increasingly unhinged and, the moderate voices within the party have already exited stage left (Kasich, et al) or have whole-heartedly joined ‘team Trump’ (Cruz, Rubio, Graham, etc). With the speaking-list including the likes of Covington student Nick Sandmann, and the couple Mark and Patricia McCloskey — who brandished guns at Black Lives Matter protesters — the convention is likely to focus on culture-war-inflaming rhetoric with the same intensity that Democrats focused on a return to the supposed halcyon days of the Obama years.
At first glance, the upcoming RNC may seem like the perfect encapsulation of the Republican Party’s undignified death as a serious political force: here, a once well-respected party — that had previously been led by the likes of Abraham Lincoln and John McCain — will cement it’s identity as a fringe group of individuals devoted both to Trump and his foggy worldview (which is centred on conspiracism and bigotry).
Trump’s legacy will be leaving the GOP as a shadow of it’s former self; a party for whom conspiracism is no longer part of the fringe, but is the core
But, while this year’s RNC may mark the death of the Republican Party as a serious, well-respected institution, it almost certainly won’t mark the end of Trumpism as an ideology.
What has become increasingly apparent over the last few weeks and months is that the Republican Party of old is not going to return any time soon. Even as Trump has become more and more unpopular with the country as a whole, he has continued to receive almost unanimous approval from the voters of the Republican Party. Meanwhile, his frequent espousing of untrue voter fraud narratives has laid the ground-work for a November Trump loss that few Republican voters will believe to be valid.
Right now, Republican politicians are dealing with a President who is exceedingly popular within his own party, but historically unpopular outside of it. The result of this is that Republicans in safe-red areas are hugging ever closer to Trump, while the mostly-moderate Republicans who have represented swing districts are either quitting or facing defeat at the ballot box.
Barring a sudden turnaround of fortunes, the GOP will be left as a rump after November’s elections. The party that held a government trifecta up until 2019, is unlikely to keep control of either the White House or the Senate, and regaining control of the House of Representatives is almost out of the question. Meanwhile, the ways in which Trump has toxified the Republican Party brand to young voters, minorities and women will leave the GOP facing ever-steepening odds in future elections.
That said, the future of the Republican Party is still important to the nation as a whole. Even if the Republican Party spends years in the political wilderness, it will still remain as one of America’s two main parties and, it’s dominance will likely continue in many currently deep-red states.
In the face of a Democratic Party that has taken up the mantle of moderatism and a Republican electoral loss that few party members will accept, expect Trumpism to continue to dominate the GOP in 2021 and beyond — even if Trump himself doesn’t.
Trump is a snakes oil salesman who has opened Pandora’s box and revealed the discontent of ordinary Americans and the many ugly ways this manifests itself
Who will lead the Trumpism movement forward is still unclear — will GOP voters accept a former Trump-skeptic turned supporter, or will they want someone who was on team Trump from day one? Regardless, it’s clear that Trumpism will continue to dominate the GOP for some time. Want proof? Just look at the recent ascension of conspiracies like QAnon into the Republican mainstream. (For those who are blissfully unaware, QAnon is the debunked conspiracy theory that America is secretly run by Satan-worshipping paedophiles. The likes of Hillary Clinton and Tom Hanks are just some of many thought by Q-believers to be part of the cabal).
While Q-Anon began only a few months after Trump’s inauguration, support for the conspiracy has grown exponentially in 2020 (perhaps because the lockdown is making people stir-crazy). Trump, who frequently refers to “the deep state”, has inspired a wave of QAnon supporters to run for Congress. Many have been successful.
While many of the QAnon candidates who won their primaries are unlikely to win in the general election, two QAnon supporters — who overcame the odds to win their primaries — are likely to become members of Congress in January. They are Lauren Boebert and Majorie Taylor Greene; both of whom Trump has praised. In their early-30s and mid-40s respectively, both Greene and Boebert could easily spend decades in the House of Representatives and, both are likely to draw disproportionately large attention to their cause if/when they enter Congress in 2021.
But, while Boebert and Greene are grabbing the most attention currently, it is Jo Rae Perkins who best shows how conspiracies like QAnon have entered the Republican mainstream.
Jo Rae Perkins — a 64-year-old perennial candidate — is a proud QAnon supporter who has run for various political offices since 1994. Up until this year, she’d decisively lost every election she ran in. In 2014, she ran to be Oregon’s next Senator and suffered a humiliating loss; coming in fourth place with less than 3% of the vote. Six years later, she ran for the same Senate seat and didn’t just win Oregon’s GOP primary, she won in a landslide — winning every single county in the state.
Perkins and co may have been inspired to run by Trump, but with or without Trump, they will have an outsized impact on the GOP’s future.
Instead of channelling discontent into hope, Trump has channelled it into fear — a fear of immigrants, of the poor, of anyone who is perceived as ‘other’
Along with the Q-anon believers, the GOP is infested with various other crackpots and conspiracists — like Winnie Heartstrong, a Missouri Republican candidate, who believes George Floyd’s murder was faked and, Laura Loomer (who recently won her primary) who’s been banned from various social media sites — including Twitter — for, among other things, calling herself a “proud Islamaphobe” and celebrating the drowning of refugees. (In case you were wondering, Trump has congratulated Loomer).
The Laura Loomer’s and Majorie Taylor Greene’s of the world will have a significant role in the Republican Party’s future whether we like it or not (I don’t). While they demonstrate the poisonous impact Trump has had, it is worth remembering that — like Trump — they are neither wholly a symptom or a cause of the deep problems present in American society.
Among other things, they show why it’s not enough for Democrats to just get rid of Trump. Trump is not an end — neither is he a beginning. He is simply a snakes oil salesman who has opened Pandora’s box and revealed the discontent of ordinary Americans and the many ugly ways this manifests itself. Instead of channelling discontent into hope, he has channelled it into fear — a fear of immigrants, of the poor, of anyone who is perceived as “other”. His legacy is leaving the GOP as a shadow of it’s former self; a party for whom conspiracism is no longer part of the fringe, but is the core.