Big Tent Ideas

America After Trump: The Battle For The GOP Has Begun

Photos by Mrs_ya, Lester Balajadia, Evan El-Amin/Shutterstock; Edits by Grae Stafford/DCNF

Terry Schilling Contributor
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What if President Donald Trump loses in November?

It’s the looming question few on the pro-Trump Right wish to entertain less than three months from Election Day. In many ways this is understandable—after all, when the question has been posed, it has generally been by a pundit class all too eager to write off the president’s chances of victory in a race that’s still far from over. But as the end of the campaign grows nearer, the possibility of a Trump defeat is also too dangerous to completely ignore.

Of course, just about every conservative recognizes that a Joe Biden administration—paired with a possibly Democrat-controlled Congress—would be a disaster for the country. Under progressive rule in Washington, the country might never recover from the economic crash brought on by COVID-19 lockdowns, while Americans would also have to deal with increasingly aggressive attacks on their free speech, religious liberty and even basic safety. Moreover, Democrats would also likely attempt to “reform” our electoral system to ensure no Republican ever gets near the White House again. (RELATED: Sanders Calls On Progressives To Rally Behind Biden Against Trump: ‘Future Of Our Democracy Is At Stake’)

It’s difficult to overstate the damage that Biden’s leftist agenda could do to the American experiment. Should Democrats take the White House and Congress, effectively fighting their program and advancing a true conservative alternative will require an aggressive effort with active participation from all corners of the Republican Party. But this raises a separate question: Will the post-Trump GOP even be willing to fight? Therein lies the gravest threat posed by a defeat in 2020.

Already, speculation is rapidly growing over what the GOP will look like once President Trump leaves office, with some voices suggesting that the party should initiate a more or less clean break with Trumpism. For example, in his recently published book “Trumpocalypse,” former Bush speechwriter and Never-Trumper David Frum called for Republicans to become a “… culturally modern post-Boomer generation party of markets and enterprise for the twenty-first century.” And Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of Trump’s most vocal Republican critics, has said the GOP needs to adopt “a kind of a bigger tent message and avoiding the divisive rhetoric and avoiding the extremes of either party.”

If this platitude-heavy rhetoric sounds familiar, it’s because we have in fact heard it all before. In the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012, the Republican National Committee infamously drafted a post-election “autopsy,” which hypothesized that the party’s chief problems were not “connecting people” to its economic policies and the need to be “more inclusive and welcoming” by moderating on social issues. Simply put, their argument was that cultural issues distracted from the winning economic message of Romney, focused on helping America’s “job creators” and “entrepreneurs.”

By the time of the 2016 presidential primaries, these ideas had largely become conventional wisdom among the Republican establishment. But we all know what happened next. After running a campaign almost entirely contrary to what the autopsy report had recommended—breaking from GOP economic orthodoxy and emphasizing cultural conservatism—Donald Trump won more electoral votes than any Republican candidate in nearly three decades. His 2016 victory proved that a socially conservative and economically populist platform can be a winning one for Republicans—and might be the only winning one.

Following this resounding result, one might expect that GOP leaders would be rushing to adapt the party to the will of the voters. And indeed there are some pioneering Republicans—such as Sens. Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, and Marco Rubio, to name a few—who are doing just that, gradually working out a new and improved direction for the GOP focused on the needs of working Americans. However, as evidenced above, there are still too many in the establishment who would prefer to return to the defeated pre-Trump consensus rather than learn from the President’s successes.

This means that once President Trump leaves office—either after a loss this November or at the end of a second term in 2025—a high-stakes battle will almost certainly commence over the future of the GOP. And those who do not want to see a return to the stale agenda of corporate Republicanism must be prepared to fight to ensure the lessons from Trump’s 2016 victory are not tossed aside.

So what should a post-Trump Republican Party look like? As my organization, American Principles Project, has argued, Republicans should build their platform around a revitalization of the American family. Our research has shown that family-oriented voters make up the base of the GOP and are natural conservatives, meaning it is this group that truly holds the future to the Republican Party. Moreover, strong families are also the foundation of a healthy society, and with marriage and birth rates at or near all-time lows, America’s future prosperity depends upon action to reverse these trends. (RELATED: How We Return To An Economy That Lifts All Americans)

Fortunately, President Trump has done much already to establish this pro-family agenda. His emphasis on trade and industrial policies, which put American workers first, has marked an important step for Republicans toward recognizing that economic policies must account for their effects on regular Americans and their families, not merely GDP or Wall Street fortunes. His administration’s efforts to promote greater educational opportunity have properly made parents once again the focus of education policy. And his moves to respect and protect the sanctity of life, religious liberty, and the reality of biological sex have helped push back against forces that would erode the family still further.

Most importantly, Trump intuitively understands that politics is about drawing sharp contrasts and competing for American hearts and minds. It requires casting bold, aggressive ideas to improve our nation. Establishment Republicans have too often shied away from this for fear of denunciation from our cultural elites—or even worse, because they agree with those elites. This element of the GOP must be forcefully opposed.

Whether Trump wins or loses in November, conservatives should demand that Republicans build upon the pro-family endeavor the president has started. They should also demand that GOP leaders defend the idea of America itself from a radical left-wing, which increasingly holds this very nation and its founding principles in contempt. While the outcome of the 2020 election is critically important, the battle to preserve the American experiment will not end if Biden and the Democrats prevail. It will have only just begun.

Terry Schilling is the executive director at American Principles Project. Follow him on Twitter @Schilling1776.

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