The GOP is screwed
They can’t escape Trumpism, but they can’t win with it, either.
Donald Trump is likely to lose in a couple of weeks. Once he’s out of office, the Republican Party will need to figure out what to do next, and its options are grim.
At the national level, Trumpism has never been popular. Trump’s approval ratings have stuck to the low 40s for most of his term, and when you control for partisanship (a lot of Americans will say they approve of the president of the same party, even if they have no idea what he’s actually up to), the actual level of support for what Trump represents is a good deal lower. Trump won in 2016 by a tiny margin, lost the popular vote, and benefited from running against an historically unpopular candidate. While he has his fans, the majority of Americans loathe him and the ideology and policies he stands for.
What this means is that a Republican Party overtaken by Trumpism is going to have an awfully hard time winning the presidency going forward and, with the trend towards increasing urbanization, a hard time winning Senate seats in all but the reddest of states. A Trumpist GOP will become effectively irrelevant at the national level.
Which would signal, of course, that the way forward for the party is to abandon Trumpism and position itself as more of a centrist, pro-market alternative to the Democrats. That kind of Republicanism is much more popular with the electorate, and if the Democrats fail to hold off the rising left wing of their party, it’s a Republicanism that stands a pretty good chance of winning a lot of elections.
The trouble is, Trump’s not going anywhere, and neither is Trumpism. Once he’s out of office, Trump won’t disappear into quiet retirement. Instead, he’ll rant and rage on social media (though Twitter might at some point terminate his account), he’ll make frequent appearances in conservative media, and he might even run for the nomination again. (Let’s set aside the possibility that he ends up in prison for tax and insurance fraud.) So Trumpism, perhaps metastasized into an evolved QAnon-ism, will remain a force in the GOP — especially at the local level and in primaries.
That will make it rather inescapable for GOP elites who just want to put the last four years behind them. They’ll have continue to pay lip service to Trump if they want to win state elections or House seats. But doing so will drive the American electorate even further way at the national level. And the core demographic of Trumpism is shrinking. It’s difficult to build a winning coalition if the only people who want to be part of it are non-college educated, working class, rural white men.
Trump has likely destroyed the Republican Party and, as long as Trumpism remains, there’s probably no way for the GOP to fix itself.