Following Trumps recent defeat Tom Bromwich reflects on what this will mean for the future of the Republican Party. The rise to Trump has been emerging for decades, but now their reputation is on the line.  

Amidst the whirling eddy of post-election discourse inevitably comes the statement: "There's no way they can come back from that". We saw it following the 2019 general election and Labour's worst performance since the 1930s, yet Labour are now back bobbing along in the high 30 to low 40 percent. Similarly, following Reagan's 49 state landslide in 1984 against Walter Mondale, pundits observed that the Democratic Party could not survive, but it did and just recaptured the White House. So, what does Trump's election defeat spell out for the future of the Republican Party? Whilst valid to say that, short-term, it was now the Trump Family Party, can the GOP move beyond this brand like Blair's New Labour did following decades in the wilderness, or Bill Clinton's 'New Democrats' did in the 1990s? I think so, although in some regards the damage is done.

The Trump phenomenon has been brewing in the US since Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign which turned the party from socially liberal, New England and West Coast conservatives to one of Christian conservatism, strict fiscal policy, and anti-communism. Goldwater lost the 1964 election but won the future, given that these themes handed Richard Nixon a staggering landslide in 1972. Nixon's victory cemented a Republican platform consensus which handed Reagan two landslides and Bush Sr. a third. By 1992, the Democratic Party had been rebranded from an anti-war, hippy-led group to a sleek machine which adopted the social conservatism of the last 30 years and won 2 smaller landslides. However, overshadowing Clinton's success was a billionaire renowned for his attacks on free trade deals, job outsourcing, the Washington establishment, and beltway incompetence. No, it isn't 2016 just yet. This refers to Ross Perot who was the first national political candidate to inject economic populism into the debate. Perot achieved the highest share of the vote for an independent candidate since George Washington, but his ideas would win an election 24 years later.

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This historical context isn't to be ignored when assessing whether the Republicans' reputation can live beyond Trump. The reason is that the Republican Party will not remain a Trump Party, but will continue as an evolving creature which first spawned legs in the 1960s. This is primarily due to the fact that the economics we associate with the Republican Party is not new. It has been an existing sensation which has taken root in the GOP and took a celebrity billionaire, adored by millions of Americans to help it emerge. The message was amplified by unsuccessful Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich who both prioritised a tax revolution, cuts to environmental regulations, ending job outsourcing, and a 'Made in America' manufacturing creed. Trump has not hijacked the Republican Party's economic message, he has just highlighted it by using his unique position as one of America's most well-known celebrities to turn it into a winning message, hence why he won American's industrial heartlands and performed the best for any Republican presidential candidate amongst manual labourers and union members since 1984. Trump couldn't taint the reputation of the GOP when he had not diverged from it.

Trump also hasn't really diverged socially. This isn't to say that his policy for a physical border with Mexico, or his anti-abortion stance, or his sloppy, hollow references to religion arrived when he came down the escalators to announce his candidacy in June 2015. These issues have sustained the Republican coalition since Goldwater and formed the platform of hundreds of Republican presidential candidates.  Again, I observe that Trump did not break the mold of social conservatism in the party, but that being said, he did not make social issues as prominent as previous Republican candidates have. His message emphasised economic populism in the states he barely won but critically needed in 2016, and his perceptively hardline social stances were wheeled out in his 'border state' (Texas, Florida and Arizona) and Bible Belt (North Carolina, Georgia) rallies ? Trump did something no Republican had done before and put the pieces of the moving Republican ideology together correctly in the right order.

Where Trump has done near irreparable damage to the Republican Party has been rhetorically. He has inflamed his base with remarks alluding to the shooting of black rioters, inspired the attempted murder of Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, and denigrated disabled individuals, Native Americans, and women. He has rabidly attacked the US constitution using unhinged and corrupt surrogates (Rudy, I'm looking at you) to undermine democratic processes at every turn using unfounded conspiracy theories to sow a Soviet-level of mistrust and hostility in the fabric of America. Republican governors, senators, representatives, and even former presidents have already deserted the party over its new rhetorical reputation. But this is a problem of the party's own making: The leadership has been so feeble in rebuking such conspiracy and rhetoric that it has lost its credibility as a steady hand on the tiller of government. They parrot Trump's rhetoric to secure his base, "seemingly unaware" that they are chipping away at the party's values and contributing to the sledgehammering of public discourse.

Trump has not changed the Republican Party. It is the Republican Party which has wrecked its own reputation by allowing Trump's rhetoric to propagate. Its feeble leadership, evidently more concerned with re-elections, donations, and popularity in the eyes of red-capped Americans, has dug a ditch in which its reputation has died in. The answer to whether they can replicate Trump's winning social-economic formula without the rhetoric lies in a world without the man himself. Perhaps a more uncertain world. Who would have thought?

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