The GOP after Trump: Don't kid yourself — another candidate with his destructive platform can rise again

Even if Donald Trump is defeated, the xenophobic and bigoted goals of Trumpism will live on

By Gary Legum

Published August 15, 2016 9:58AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (AP/Chris Carlson/Rainier Ehrhardt/Photo montage by Salon)
Donald Trump (AP/Chris Carlson/Rainier Ehrhardt/Photo montage by Salon)

On Thursday, Fox News' Eric Bolling interviewed Donald Trump, who said something that, had it come from any other candidate, would sound amazing to anyone who has ever worked on a political campaign.

I think we are gonna have tremendous voter turnout…I don’t know that we need to get out the vote. I think people that really want to vote, they’re gonna just get up and get out and vote for Trump. And we’re going to make America great again.

Aside from being a sort of “Underpants gnomes” theory of winning the presidential election, this comment only reinforces one of the infrastructure criticisms that has surrounded the Trump campaign. Namely, that there is no real Trump campaign. There is no traditional get-out-the-vote effort. There is little to no data mining that would help the campaign target its messaging to possible undecided voters. There is little to no field staff, particularly in the battleground states. This weekend, while polls showed him falling far behind Hillary Clinton in toss-up states that he must win, he campaigned in deep-blue Connecticut, whose six measly electoral votes he’ll only score if no one but Trump family members are allowed to vote there on November 8.

This has been the great experiment of the Trump run. He cruised through the GOP primaries on the strength of lots of media coverage and little else, leaving people to wonder if such a nontraditional campaign could win a grueling national campaign. Could the infrastructure-building and organizational skills that modern campaign managers use to justify their fees be exposed as unnecessary?

So far, the answer is a resounding “No.” But Trump, by all outward appearances, shows no inclination to change the strategy. Which is why his losing seems more and more likely with every new poll.

So it’s worth taking a moment – if not right now, at least on November 9 – to be grateful that this authoritarian demagogue is so egotistical and lazy that he has run the most incompetent campaign for president that any of us are likely to see in our lifetimes. And then to wonder if some future candidate who speaks the language of Trumpism and can run a smarter campaign could succeed where he will have failed.

It would be nice, should the polls hold and Clinton defeats Trump by a large margin, to think that the American people learned their lesson. To think that when we as a nation stared into some sort of abyss, the vast majority of us agreed to take a giant step back. To crush Trump so completely that his brand of toxic populism will not rise again.

That would make a nice story of heroic moral courage.

The problem is that even if Trump is defeated, the goals of Trumpism will live on. Even if Trump himself retreats to his penthouse to lounge on all the furniture he picked up cheap at Liberace’s estate sale, the anger and xenophobia he has given voice to in the GOP will not go anywhere. As the journalist Josh Marshall puts it, “[T]he size of the Trumpite faction within the GOP…demonstrably rules the GOP.” Trump has brought this “white ethno-nationalist party…out of the shadows.” It is, for all intents and purposes, the Republican Party now.

Thus future GOP candidates will need to harness that white ethno-nationalism if they want to run for president on a Republican ticket. And it is not hard to imagine these future candidates being career politicians well versed in running competent campaigns. It’s not hard to imagine this hypothetical candidate being a demagogue for the masses while also knowing how to work with the career party members without alienating them. It’s not hard to imagine this person knowing how to tailor his volume to a whisper where Trump has used an air horn.

Much of this scenario depends on what happens with the Republican Party after the election, of course. Whether the splits Trump’s campaign has revealed can be glued back together again. But without the ethno-nationalism that we’ve seen, the GOP is too small to be a viable national political party. It will have a choice of moving to the center – which means giving up some of its conservative ideology – or keeping the hard right in the fold while tamping down on the dog whistles.

One of these moves will be hard. The other is probably a faster route back to power. I’m afraid I know which one the Republicans will likely pick.

Gary Legum

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