Some interesting thoughts here from Julia Azari on whether the Republican party might be morphing into a Trump party that, going forward, will have no particular need or desire for Trump himself:
Trump does represent an idea that has appealed to some of his party’s voters: politics based on grievance, especially when linked to white identity. Trump has emerged as a powerful leader to this movement, claiming that the 2020 election was stolen, that the media and tech companies seek to silence voices on the right, and that institutions no longer work for “ordinary” (read: white) Americans. And while many establishment GOP members don’t agree with some of Trump’s more extreme words and actions, they have continued to defend him, or, at the very least, not really distance themselves from him. The upcoming impeachment trial and the fact that most GOP senators are likely to vote against his conviction speak to a long pattern left over from when Trump was still in office: criticize Trump’s actions, but ultimately don’t disavow him.
To what extent can the grievance politics of white identity be harnessed by some other potential leader of the GOP?
Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Madison Cawthorn have already proven, for instance, that they can grab headlines with their extreme views and actions without Trump. (And as with Trump, the media coverage is not overwhelmingly positive, and they have drawn some criticism from within their own party.) Of course, there is still a key difference between them and Trump in terms of power and influence: A group of representatives can make up a faction of a party, but only the president serves as the party’s mouthpiece.
There is another reason, though, to think that there might not be room for Trump in the Republican Party moving forward. Political science research has found that Republicans are actually quite successful in building a “farm team” in state and Congressional elections (compared to Democrats, who often struggle in this regard). This means that Republicans might not really struggle to find a replacement for Trump. It’s not hard to imagine, for instance, that there will one day be other ambitious Republicans — say, Sen. Josh Hawley or former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley — seeking higher office while claiming that they are the real heir to Trump’s legacy, even if they represent marked differences in style or approach. In fact, there are a number of signs that the party is already headed in this direction, trending away from more establishment GOP types and toward more Trump-style figures.
It seems to me the GOP is splitting into two factions: The full-on paranoid conspiracy theorist Trumpist nuts (Greene, Cawthorn, Gaetz, Boebert, Jordan, and many many more), and the “respectable” [sic] face of Trumpism, i.e., Hawley, Cruz, Haley, Graham, etc.
As for the at least putatively anti-Trump wing — Romney, Sasse, Kascich, Liz Cheney — there’s no room for these people in the Republican party leadership for the foreseeable future, although most of these folks have obviously failed to figure this out yet.
It’s going to be a battle between the flat-out crazies and the people who will be treated as something other than white supremacists by the media because you can’t treat the entire actually existing Republican party as made up of white supremacists (those are just the rules).
I tend to agree with Azari that there’s no compelling reason why Trump himself necessarily has to play a major factor in this going forward. People who cite his “charisma,” and the purported lack of it among his epigones, are in my view just using a magic word to explain what seems like an otherwise inexplicable attraction to a completely repulsive human being.
Whatever successor manages to seize the mantle of Trumpism in 2024 will suddenly seem plenty charismatic to the people who voted for Trump, and more important, to the propaganda apparatus that decided that Trump was a uniquely charismatic figure among our many aspiring leaders of authoritarian ethno-nationalism.
The basic problem is that what Trump voters found “charismatic” about Trump was not so much Trump as Trumpism: He was the only candidate willing to sell the pure product that the rest of the GOP pretenders were cutting with a whole lot of respectability politics filler. But that’s all over now.