Will Trumpism survive a Trump defeat?

Jonathan Tobin takes up the question at Commentary. He defines Trumpism as “isolationism, protectionism, and populist blood and soil nativism.”

Tobin answers his question this way:

Though Trumpism without Trump would be a very different and less potent movement, it is a mistake to think even a landslide defeat for the Republicans will guarantee that it can resume its past stance as a supporter of a strong America on the global stage as well as support for free trade.

Tobin is silent on the matter of “populist blood and soil nativism.”

He adds:

If [the GOP] is to resume being the party of Reagan, it will require more than just a Clinton win. It will need a resurgence of support for conservative principles as well as some soul-searching on the part of those Republicans leaders who failed to unite to stop Trump before he sank their party.

Before discussing the future of “isolationism, protectionism, and nativism” in the GOP, I have two comments on the second quoted passage. First, it should not be the goal of Republicans to resume being the party of Reagan in any strict sense. By the time of the next election, Reagan’s presidency will be more than 30 years in the rear view mirror. The challenges America faces now are, in important respects, different from the challenges it faced in the 1980s.

The goal of Republicans should be to find the right answers to these problems. Though hardly irrelevant to that quest, Reaganism is an insufficient guide in many cases.

Second, although soul-searching by Republicans leaders is warranted, it is not the kind that Tobin seems to have in mind. Rather, the soul-searching should focus on the attitudes and pronouncements that opened the door for Trump.

Above all, Reince Priebus and company should reflect on the fact that their successful efforts to dissuade conservative presidential contenders from taking a strong stand against amnesty and citizenship for illegal immigrants enabled Trump to move to fore as the only contender willing to blast such policies.

When Trump said during debate after debate that the contenders wouldn’t be discussing illegal immigration if not for him, he was not far from the truth. But if Republican leaders hadn’t tried to move the GOP away from a hard line on illegal immigration, it’s likely that a number of contenders would have taken a hard line and made it a theme before Trump entered the race.

Now, what of the post-Trump GOP (assuming the tycoon loses and the election isn’t close). It’s not likely to be isolationist. Events overseas will probably see to that.

In light of events, Trump himself isn’t taking a consistent isolationist stance. He does show an alarming affinity for Vladimir Putin (and, in doing so, for strengthening Assad’s position), but this view seems unique to Trump. I don’t expect the GOP to become a pro-Putin party.

Nor do I expect the GOP to become a protectionist party. What seems likely is that party will become less dogmatically pro free trade. This means analyzing, or purporting to analyze, trade deals on their merits to make sure, as will be said, that America isn’t being taken advantage of.

In other words, I see the GOP straddling the issue, just as I think Hillary Clinton will. If Clinton makes a deal that can readily be attacked as disadvantageous in its particulars, and if the economy is struggling, Republicans will likely attack the deal.

But given the strength of the Sanders wing of the Democratic party, Clinton isn’t likely to agree to a controversial trade deal in these circumstances. So protectionism probably won’t be a major issue for a while. One never knows, but it is unlikely to fuel a serious Trumpist candidacy in 2020.

On immigration, which Tobin may have mostly in mind when he discusses “nativism,” much depends on Speaker Paul Ryan. If he cooperates with the Democrats to pass amnesty-style legislation, then the door once against will be open to Trumpism because party leaders will have committed the same mistake, only more egregiously, that gave rise to Trump.

If Republicans take the “enforcement first” position that prevailed (barely) during the George W. Bush years, then the door will not be open for a successful “populist blood and soil nativist” presidential campaign. However, even in the absence of one, Republican pundits who support amnesty and high levels of legal immigration might well continue to characterize Republicans who disagree with them as nativist (with or without adjectives).

A Trump defeat wouldn’t restore the Republican party to its 2013 posture, nor should it. But if GOP leaders avoid the mistakes they began making back then, the party should be able to move past Trumpism.

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