Unlike Steve, I’m convinced that, unfortunately, Hillary Clinton will win this election. Assuming she does, and that the race isn’t very close, what will happen to Trumpism?
To answer this question we must identify Trumpism’s main characteristics. In my view, there are five: (1) the unbridled egotism of its leader and his whiff of authoritarianism; (2) gratuitous nastiness; (3) a strong stance against illegal immigration; (4) intense skepticism about the the virtue of free trade; (5) an anti-interventionist foreign policy.
(I should note that the first two traits don’t sharply distinguish Trumpism from leaders of the Democrats. However, they have not characterized GOP leaders in the decades since Richard Nixon.)
Let’s consider whether the five defining features of Trumpism will prevail in a post-Trump GOP.
Unbridled egotism and the whiff of authoritarianism
If Trump loses, those aspiring to lead the Republican party in 2020 are unlikely to emulate Trump’s bullying, demeanor, and other personal characteristics. Similarly, Republican voters are unlikely to want to nominate another candidate who exhibits them.
Following a disappointing defeat, we often see the rejection of the losing candidate’s personal characteristics. Trump himself is the polar opposite of Mitt Romney in terms of aura and personal qualities. Romney’s personality and aura were very different from John McCain’s. I think this trend will hold in 2020.
A strong stance against illegal immigration
Although this stance was crucial to Trump’s capture of the GOP, it is not uniquely Trumpian. The conservative wing of the GOP was, for the most part, strongly opposed to amnesty and a path to citizenship before Trump emerged as a force in the Party.
It’s true that leaders of the conservative wing wavered after the 2012 defeat, which is why Trump gained instant traction. But it requires no accommodation to Trumpism for the GOP to maintain a strong stance against illegal immigration going forward.
I fear, however, that Paul Ryan will work with Hillary Clinton to pass amnesty-style immigration reform. By doing so, he will all but guarantee a bitter and enduring fight within the party. I expect immigration to again be a defining issue in the fight for the GOP nomination, and I hope (and expect) that Trumpism will prevail on this matter.
Intense skepticism about the virtue of free trade
Unlike with immigration, Trump’s approach to trade represents a sharp break from traditional GOP thinking. In theory, then, trade could be another defining issue in the fight for the GOP nomination in 2020.
In practice, it probably won’t be. It should be possible for Republican aspirants to finesse the issue by saying (as Hillary Clinton does) “I favor trade deals that help the U.S. and oppose deals that don’t.”
That dodge won’t work if Clinton makes controversial trade deals. In that event, aspirants will have to say whether the deal is good for the U.S. or bad.
However, Clinton’s party is so divided on trade that she is unlikely to negotiate controversial deals during her first term. If I’m right about this, trade need not be a major issue in the next four years.
Anti-interventionist foreign policy
Here too, Trumpism represents a break with traditional Republican thinking. But it’s worth noting that, pre-Trump, the Party moved briefly in an anti-interventionist direction. The rise of ISIS pushed it back into a more normal posture.
The post-Trump thinking will be driven by events. If Clinton is an interventionist and things go poorly, the Party will embrace anti-interventionism (and this would be true had Trump never run). If Clinton interventions go well, the Party’s normal stance will prevail.
If Clinton fails to intervene and bad results ensue, the Party will become vocally pro-intervention. If Clinton fails to intervene and things remain relatively quiet, there will be disagreement within the Party about America’s role in the world, but the issue will be academic and have little bearing on whom the GOP nominates in 2020.
In sum, assuming Clinton defeats Trump fairly comfortably, I expect that the Party will nominate an anti-Trump in terms of personality, aura, and behavior. On substance, the Party ignores Trumpism on immigration at its peril; can probably finesse Trumpism on trade; and will embrace or reject Trumpism on foreign intervention depending on how things go in the coming years.