For the past few decades, the Republican party has been fiscally and socially conservative, with a hint of libertarianism. Late 20th century presidents like Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush enacted Republican policies and repeated conservative rhetoric, making them staunch modern conservative giants.
The underlying consensus about the two major parties was that the Democratic party was generally fiscally and socially liberal, and the Republican party represented the opposite. However, in this new warped political society, radicalism on both sides has slowly taken over the “moderates” of their respective parties.
For the Democrats, it is the economic progressives, and for the Republicans, it was Trump.
However, Joe Biden becoming the presumptive president-elect signals the end of the Trump Presidency, an administration that has enacted policies that have not been quite conservative and definitely not liberal.
Granted, Trump’s economic policies have generally been fiscally conservative, and his social policies have aligned with conservative principles; however, he has enacted foreign policies that contradict conservatism, such as pulling US soldiers out of Northern Syria in 2019.
Trump also has not fulfilled his promise of getting rid of the Affordable Care Act or finishing the wall along the US-Mexico border. To get the vote of Evangelicals and other Christian denominations, he has put restrictive measures on the abortion industry like decreasing funding for 900 abortion clinics nationwide, but some pro-life activists wish he would go further in banning abortion.
Regardless, the removal of the Republican president raises the question: what is the future of the Republican party, and will there be a return to a typical Washington conservative Republican, like Senator John McCain?
To really understand the complexity of the topic, the rationale for supporting Trump has to be understood. In 2016, Trump launched his presidential bid with the motto “Make America Great Again.” The implication here was that Washington politicians like President Barack Obama and Senator Mitt Romney had failed and taken advantage of the American people for too long, which meant that an outsider, an “honest businessman,” would make a more adequate president.
Trump also based his 2016 presidential campaign on the idea that the majority of mainstream news outlets in America are “fake news.” He cited times in which outlets have had a liberal bias and where they blatantly favored one candidate over the other. This bottled up rage Republicans have felt towards the mainstream media underreporting the merits of a Republican presidency and overreporting the merits of a Democratic presidency exploded into a passionate following for Trump.
Therefore, the 2016 election was a referendum on the Obama presidency and Hillary Clinton, proving a rising mentality towards certain establishments. To his growing base, Trump was a literal and figurative middle finger to the establishment, Washington politicians, and the mainstream media outlets.
This means that it is assumed the rage and passion Trump supporters feel towards the institutions that caused their initial support for Trump is still there since that media liberal bias and Republican perception of Washington politicians have not changed since 2016.
If the Republicans want to dissociate with Trump and his voter base, then they will most likely have to nominate a strict and hardcore conservative for president in 2024. If Trump were to run again in 2024 and secure the Republican nomination, then the Republican party is basically cemented with Trumpism.
In my opinion, Senator Ted Cruz or Ambassador Nikki Haley would be a viable option, considering they are well known and widely liked by Republicans. Regardless of who it is, they must have a clear opinion on Trump and the beliefs that got him elected.
If that Republican 2024 nominee does condemn the Trump presidency for moving away from conservatism or for being a polarizing figure, then he/she will most likely lose voters, but it will begin a road to make Trump obsolete, especially if that nominee cements a voter base that includes condemning Trump.
In doing so, the Republican party has to reaffirm the definition of conservatism, one that may include an emphasis on free markets, a strong national defense, foreign interventionism, and strict adherence to the Bill of Rights.
If there is one thing that is clear about the 2020 election, it was that the entire election process was a referendum on the overall Trump presidency, including his rhetoric, policies, and encompassing message. It is assumed the American people wanted a change in leadership because of Trump’s constant emotionally taxing personality and tweets. If the Republican party wishes to escape that referendum, then they have to dissociate from Trump.
The future of the Republican party lies in the hands of the next Republican presidential nominee, how Republican congressional leaders act, and how conservatism is defined.