The Future of the GOP

Where Does MAGA Fit In a Post-Trump World?

By Buck Sexton

Among the Trump faithful, there was no plan for this…

Nobody knows what’s next, or how this will play out. And to understand where the conservative movement is going, we first need to understand what got us here.

The period after the 2020 election was a mess. Its worst day by far was the disastrous riot on January 6. Much of the uncertainty for the Trump world now – and the Republican Party overall – comes from what transpired on Capitol Hill then.

I’ve been speaking to a few of those recently departed from the Trump administration, some on good terms with their former boss, others more as quiet refugees… and they all share a form of political shell shock. They’d gotten used to things being highly unorthodox in Trump’s White House, but they didn’t think it would turn into all-out mayhem at the 11th hour.

It all started to go off the rails with Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in November. No one around then-President Trump wanted to say out loud before the election that he was behind in the polls and might well lose…

In any White House, that would be viewed as lacking in team spirit. In Trump’s immediate orbit, there was never room for even the slightest doubt about his electoral inevitability. Spend five minutes reading his (now banned) Twitter feed, and you know that one sin that Trump cannot abide is others lacking supreme confidence in him.

It was after the election, though, that the situation in and around the Oval Office took a strange turn. Trump wasn’t satisfied with those closest to him saying that there were “election irregularities.” Nor was it sufficient to lean heavily into allegations (still unproven to this day) that there was substantial fraud.

To change the end result in a national election, you need to find the proverbial smoking gun. And that didn’t happen… not even close.

To be sure, there’s always some fraud in a national election, and Democrats have a long and storied history of it. But to change the end result in a national election, you need to find the proverbial smoking gun. And that didn’t happen… not even close.

But Trump didn’t care. He wanted his people to go out into the world and state, definitively, that he won the election. And not only that, but he also wanted them to state he won “by a landslide,” as Trump repeated publicly many times, much to the delight of millions of his voters who refused to accept defeat.

Needless to say, Trump’s pronouncements of victory caused problems among some senior White House staff as well as at the Department of Justice. For the month of November, Trump’s election objections had stayed within the system. Bringing legal challenges in court are well within precedent. And the Democrats had (cynically) chosen to leverage the panic around COVID-19 to enact a slew of last-minute changes in various states to election processes. Some suspicion (and even disbelief) about Joe Biden’s win was understandable from Trump and his base.

Once the election battle dragged into December, however, it started to become clear that the legal challenges weren’t going to change the outcome. The Trump campaign’s legal team –  now famously derided by former Attorney General Bill Barr as “clownish” –  was handed defeat after defeat in federal courts. They seemed more attuned to cable-TV news appearances than pulling off the miracle of a Trump reelection.

There was a constant bait and switch underway, one in which Trump’s legal representatives made bold pronouncements on TV about the “bombshell” about to drop in court. Then at the moment of truth, they’d present much meeker, more limited challenges before the judge.

Many in the pro-Trump conservative media were willing to take on faith the legal team’s request to be open-minded, as they prepared to deal the Biden would-be presidency a crushing legal blow in court. The “kraken” would be unleashed! They promised… it was going to happen any day.

But of course, it never came. As the new year approached, there was a growing recognition among Trump boosters in the media that the legal team had no shot whatsoever at getting a judge to overturn even a single state’s election results due to fraud, never mind four states.

But there was also a sense that Trump voters deserved their due process. As long as the effort to look at election fraud stayed within the boundaries of law, even unsuccessful claims provide clarity and some degree of catharsis for very frustrated Trump supporters.

Then came the January 6 march, and the ensuing riot on Capitol Hill. For a mob of Trump supporters to break into the halls of Congress while the certification of a presidential vote was occurring was destructive, idiotic, and wrong on every level. It was also a massive blunder, as the Democrats have leveraged the incident to crack down on speech and tried to ignite a civil war within the GOP.

Before this incident, Trump was expected to be operating a “government in exile,” the leader in spirit if not name of the GOP. Nobody else within the Republican Party had anywhere near his support among the base, and challenging him even after his election loss would have appeared a fool’s errand.

Now, Trump’s future is unclear, and with it, so is the GOP’s

Now, Trump’s future is unclear, and with it, so is the GOP’s. Trump is facing a second impeachment trial in the Senate, after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi rammed through yet another impeachment in the House. The fact that this came almost exactly 12 months after the first impeachment of Trump proves the particular absurdity of this political moment.

There was no serious chance of removing Trump from office in 2020, nor is it remotely probable 15 Republican senators will join the Democrats to impeach a president who is no longer in office.

For the Left, this is the continuation of a vendetta against Trump that began the moment they realized he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016. Despite what they may say about the Emoluments Clause, the 25th Amendment, phone calls with the Ukrainian president, or even “incitement to insurrection,” Trump’s original sin has always been the victory that he was not supposed to win. That alone is justification in the eyes of the political establishment – “The Swamp” in Trumpian parlance –  to persecute him even after his 2020 election defeat.

While the Senate trial looms, it’s highly unlikely Trump will be convicted and then be barred from holding future office. Democrats might view that as a dream come true, though it’s not even clear if Trump would plan to run again in four years. While he’s not quite as “past his prime” as Biden (who’s almost an octogenarian, at 78 years old), Trump is old enough that four years could take a toll.

Assuming Trump had planned to run in 2024, he may soon find his political brand has lost momentum. The disastrous 2020 transition period certainly tarnished him among GOP elites, though the voter base seems overwhelmingly willing to stand alongside him.

What may be a bigger issue is the change in perception that will set in over time: Trump didn’t “get tired of winning.” He lost by millions of votes… And it was to Joe Biden, who is himself a two-time presidential candidate loser. That’s a far cry from the invincible Trump who voters came to know in 2016.

The legacy of the MAGA agenda is a fiercely debated topic, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Its aftermath, however, is already quite clear… Republicans are grappling with their weakest political position in more than a decade.

After four years in office, Trump departed the White House for Mar-a-Lago with the House, Senate, and presidency all in Democratic hands. There’s no check on Biden’s agenda beyond the Senate filibuster, and it may be only a matter of time before the Democrats steamroll that too.

Beyond the losses in elected office, Republicans are out of power in major American institutions as well. While liberal bias in the media, Hollywood, and academia is nothing new, it has taken on a frenzied zealotry in response to Trumpism. Social media companies are now actively, openly suppressing ideas and figures on the Right, including Trump himself.

Many Fortune 500 companies have adopted Left-wing slogans and anti-Trump postures at the highest levels. Instead of winning the culture war, Trump seems to have rallied all the forces of the institutional Left against him and whatever’s left of the GOP in his absence. He kicked the beehive of the progressive Left for four years, and now the rest of the Republican Party is left behind to get stung.

There’s always the possibility that Trump’s brand recovers from this downturn.

There’s always the possibility that Trump’s brand recovers from this downturn. If anyone’s capable of an improbable comeback story, it’s the man who went into election night in 2016 with the New York Times predicting a 97% chance of a Hillary Clinton win. We all know how that turned out… Trump is more a political phenomenon than a politician, he’s almost a movement unto himself. With that kind of sway over the base, anything is possible.

Many observers with close ties to Trump expect that he will, at a minimum, become a GOP kingmaker. From his Palm Beach perch, he could play a large role in raising up the next round of Republican candidates, all with his “America First” stamp of approval. He certainly has the donor network, connections, and name recognition to push anyone he wants onto center stage.

But even that role would come with complications. For one thing, it’s not clear at all that Trump will care much about the Republican Party (or politics at all) when he’s not the center of it all. Trump has a genius for self-promotion, and was willing to lend the support of his fervent base to GOP politicians in the past. But that was all a part of his patronage network. To borrow from mafia lore, Trump was happy to create “made guys” when he was the godfather. It might be a very different thing when he’s no longer the head of the family…

Which brings us to another possibility – his actual family. Trump may pass the political baton to his kids. There’s already a lot of chatter in the political press about the possibility of Ivanka running for Senate, in a challenge to incumbent Marco Rubio. Yet as attractive, connected, and wealthy as Ivanka is, her connection to the blue-collar Trump voter is unproven.

An easier pitch may be Donald Trump Jr., whose fondness for hunting, fishing, and the trappings of Americana could propel him to the front of the GOP pack in 2024. Eric Trump’s wife, Lara, is also expected to run for Senate in her home state of North Carolina. The Trumps run a family business, and that extends to the business of politics. So, there very well could be another President Trump, it’s just not clear yet which one.

That said, the 2024 presidential election right now feels like eons away… The Republican party has to focus on the immediate tasks ahead of stifling the most radical aspects of Biden’s agenda, and preparing for a wave election to take back the House in the 2022 midterms.

Right now, the best asset the GOP seems to have is the ineptitude and overreach of the newly empowered Democrats.

Right now, the best asset the GOP seems to have is the ineptitude and overreach of the newly empowered Democrats. If they dramatically underdeliver on the “build back better” promise of the Biden campaign, it’s likely they will be made to pay a hefty price at the polls.

Who else can step forward to lead the GOP now? It’s a wide-open field. Some of those who were making the most headway with the Trump base before (Sen. Cruz and Hawley come to mind) have, for now, been hit with the blowback over Trump’s last few weeks in office. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has the single most impressive record of any leader of a large state during the pandemic, and may have aspirations to leave the sunshine state for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

For now, the primary feeling within the GOP is akin to “batten down the hatches.” The Democrats beat the most consequential Republican president since Ronald Reagan. They’ve seized the most powerful offices in government and dominate America’s most influential institutions. The pendulum is likely to swing back toward the Right in time, but there’s no easy way through this moment.

The GOP is on defense and Trumpism is in exile. The American people are going to have to suffer through some very unfortunate Biden policies to remember why just a few short years ago, they handed the reins over to a political outsider with the simple promise that he would Make America Great Again.


Buck Sexton is host of the nationally syndicated talk radio program, The Buck Sexton Show, heard on more than 100 stations across the country. He’s also a former CIA and NYC police department intelligence officer. You can follow him at BuckSexton.com.

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