WELLINGTON, OHIO – JUNE 26: Former US President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds on June 26, 2021 in Wellington, Ohio. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Donald Trump inevitably wields immense influence over the current GOP. Whether or not Trump runs in the 2024 presidential election is less important than the way he has already changed the party, chiefly by spurring conservatives to join the culture war.
Still, voters must be aware of the social and economic credit politicians stand to gain by evoking the name and style of the former president: There is no person more opportunistic than a lawmaker.
Given the vast popularity of Trump among conservative voters, which has been consistent in post-election polling, Republican lawmakers are faced with a choice: Either espouse some of the populist policies preferred by his supporters, or, jump ship, favor the old neoconservative order, and risk a Trump-Tucker Carlson rebuke that will end with an Asa Hutchinson–Kristi Noem type beat down.
To put it more simply, sink or swim.
Before Trump won the 2016 primary, the GOP establishment was on a hunt to deplatform him. Some of the former president’s most vocal supporters, among them South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, were exceedingly critical.
To Washington D.C. insiders, Trump represented a suspicious, oddball character. In his vow to expose the endless, self-fulfilling political machine, career politicians scoffed. To them, he was far too crude — an adulterous, profane celebrity doomed to lose after wasting money distracting from supposedly more appealing candidates.
So it went to the GOP insiders, voters would be thrilled with yet another Bush president, Jeb, and with it foreseeably another war in the Middle East. But the tables turned, and Trump sunk Jeb and all the others in the waters of the D.C. swamp.
And so Trump has been widely embraced by the party, legitimately or superficially depending on the politician. His 2016 victory made one thing very clear: There is and remains a fundamental disconnect between the elites handpicking candidates and propelling them to stardom, seemingly only acting on tax reform and corporate bailouts, and the general public that sees social and cultural decay growing in communities at a rapid pace.
It’s obvious Trump is the most significant leader among serious conservatives today. Politicians, who are always engaged in personal calculations of electoral viability, would be foolish or blind to ignore it. Trumpism is popular.
Thus, many career Republicans have moved to stand behind Trump in rhetoric — with some newbies even trying to mimic his language for aesthetic appeal. And based on how these same lawmakers have voted for decades, hint, hint: Lindsay Graham — conservative voters need to deeply consider voting records and policy proposals rather than mere rhetoric and venues of speaking engagements.
It may seem unclear exactly which Republican leaders are in on MAGA for the long haul or just capitalizing off a brand that has proved to be successful in winning elections — given that Trump’s endorsements have proven majorly significant for candidates. But voters need to be attentive to how GOP lawmakers proceed — how they act.
After all, the president’s movement was very much an “outlaw” movement, as Bryson Piscitelli argues in the latest issue of TAC, and went directly against the grain of the methodical GOP of the past. The question is whether our career politicians will persist against this grain, or reinforce it just as soon as enough years have passed.
The populist movement that was ignited by Trump, is at risk of morphing into something of a Populism, Inc. — wherein the national GOP strategizes on how to lure in voters it has not represented for many years — if ever.
Americans who were left out of the political back alleys and smoke-filled Skull & Bones rooms of the past GOP need to be just as wary of their own party as the radicals on the other side.
Gabe Kaminsky is an intern at The Federalist. His writing has been featured in the Daily Wire, RealClearPolitics, Townhall, and other outlets. He has also appeared on Fox News, Hill.TV., and various radio programs. Follow him on Twitter or reach him at [email protected].
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