After Trump: How The GOP Revitalizes

Matt K. Lewis | Senior Contributor

Everyone keeps asking me what happens to the GOP if Donald Trump loses?

The notion that things would “go back to normal” on the Right isn’t terribly comforting. Trump didn’t create the GOP’s problems; he exploited them. He’s a symptom, not the cause.

The problems outlined in Too Dumb to Fail (ScamPACs, the conservative echo chamber, etc.) all preceded Trump’s arrival on the political scene. They won’t just go away. Why would they? The incentives for attention, money, etc. are still almost all perverse. And, as I told HuffPost, nobody on the Right has the statutory or moral authority to impose order from the top down.

Things will likely get worse before they get better. Speculation that an “Axis of Epistemic Closure” (the Trump-Ailes-Bannon alliance) might start its own cable news or digital media outlet in the wake of electoral defeat is only further proof that a Trump loss won’t automatically cause Trumpbart readers to suddenly transform into little Jack Kemps and Bill Buckleys.

No matter what happens, there is a very real chance that the conservative coalition splits apart, with populist nationalists taking over the party from mainstream Reaganite conservatives.

There’s also a chance the movement stays tenuously together—and is eventually forced to get serious. Both sides would have to compromise. But largely, demographic realities would require the GOP base to cast aside Trump-ism—and accept modernization.

This will only happen if and when it has to happen. And there are two indispensable elements that would be required.

First, because we live in a world that has democratized everything, change can only come with the permission of the base. And my theory is that nobody volunteers for change; they only accept it reluctantly when all other options have failed. In this regard, who gets blamed for 2016 is almost as important as the outcome.

Change cannot be imposed. But it can be persuaded. Along those lines, the second necessary element is the emergence of a unifying leader.

If and when the base is forced to confront the need for change, an honorable leader (not a demagogue!) will still be required. (It’s worth noting the Never Trump movement lacked both of the necessary ingredients, but the absence of a leader was especially obvious. As they say, “you can’t beat somebody with nobody.”)

There’s some truth to the “great man” theory of history. What would the world be like if men like Washington, Lincoln, Churchill, and Reagan hadn’t arrived on the scene at just the right moment?

Often, this person is only allowed to lead after (A) we’ve exhausted all other options, and (B) we face some sort of existential threat from the outside that forces us to put aside our differences.

If you know anybody, the right applicant must possess tremendous rhetorical skills, charisma, a proven record of sacrifice for the cause, and other leadership traits.

This recipe is a tall order. The GOP is in a real mess. It won’t be easy to fix.

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