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If Trumpism Survives Trump, It Will Be A Political Coalition, Not An Ideology (Washington Examiner) November 30, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

One of the big questions on the table today is whether Trumpism will survive President Trump’s time in the White House. The short answer is: maybe as a political force, but not as an ideology. In fact, when it comes to Trumpism as a set of policies or beliefs, I am inclined to quote Gertrude Stein, who said of her childhood home in Oakland, California, “There is no there there.”

First, we must admit that there has been surprising political power to Trumpism. It came out of nowhere to take over the Republican Party and win the presidency in 2016, and it rallied over 73 million voters in defeat four years later.

However, as its name implies, Trumpism centers around a person, not a set of ideas. This came home to rest clearly when the Republican Party decided not to bother with a platform in 2020 but just ran back the same one from 2016. We have no new ideas, it effectively admitted. Our platform is whatever Trump thinks when he wakes up and starts tweeting every day. Devoid of a political philosophy, it changes regularly.

The defeat of Trump leaves the field wide open for conservatives to redefine, or at least restate, their principles. Do they believe in smaller government or reducing the federal debt, as they have claimed in the past, or are they prepared to spend and grow the debt as Trump did even before the coronavirus hit? Do they stand behind national security commitments with our allies in the Middle East, or will they continue to bring home troops and stand down as Trump has done? Do they embrace free trade as they did for decades, or are they now committed to tariffs, a la Trump?

Conservatism has not been tried and found wanting in the Trump years. It has barely been tried at all. Admittedly, conservatism is a big tent with lots of factions: national security conservatives, fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, Right-leaning libertarians, the religious Right, and more. It could be a fruitful time for conservatives to debate the big ideas of their movement and set a new course for the Republican Party.

Trumpism, on the other hand, is a whole different thing. It is not so much a philosophy as it is a man who, on any given day, is full of opinions and, especially, grievances. And it is especially the grievances that have connected, in a populist sense, with a lot of people in the country who are also unhappy. He wanted to “drain the swamp” in Washington, and many people rallied to that. He was tired of America being taken advantage of in trade deals and by our allies in NATO, and he wanted to stop that. To Trump, a platform is not a set of policies or ideas. It’s something you stand on to rally, tweet, and try to connect with people who are stirred up by the same things that bother you.

Trumpism in the future, then, will not solve any problems or define any new directions for Republicans. It is a political coalition of people with shared frustrations. It requires a person to lead it and, therefore, can survive in only two ways: Either Trump himself runs again for president in 2024 or in some active way holds his coalition together, or another politician recreates himself as the second coming of Trump. A few possibilities come to mind: Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Mike Pompeo.

This is the fork in the road facing Republicans. Either they spend the next couple of years productively discussing and figuring out what they stand for again, or they simply roll over into a new phase of Trumpism. One would hope that redefining conservatism for the 21st century would rule the day, but the temptation to politics over policy, to winning over doing the right thing, is always powerful.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


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