As the past week goes illustrates, hardly a day is going to go by without the steady drip of evidence tying President Trump and his cronies to a conspiracy to subvert U.S. foreign policy for political gain. The televised impeachment hearings are a balm for Democrats infuriated with Trump’s desecration of the presidency from the start. With his self-dealing, casual lying and mob-like ways, Trump has violated just about every political norm that civics classes taught students for decades.
But what happens if, by some miracle, Trump becomes so much of a liability that a handful of Republican Senators decide to join Democrats and throw Trump from office? Does that mean the GOP is returning to something resembling a normal political party?
The answer is, obviously and unfortunately, no.
Trump’s antics make it easy to focus on him as the problem. But as unfit as he is for office, he is there – and will likely stay there – because the Republican party essentially agrees with the core principles of Trumpism: polarization, racial resentment, and disdain for LGBTQ rights.
Before Trump was ever the nominee for office, Republicans have been residing in a parallel universe where Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim and LGBTQ people were destroying marriage and the military. They were also using their power to block Democratic judicial nominees, including one for the Supreme Court, and do their best to suppress non-Republican voter turnout, both of which would have led to more LGBTQ progress.
In short, the GOP has been flirting with white nationalism and theocracy for a while. Along came Donald Trump to embrace the former wholeheartedly, and for the latter fill his administration with those who believe in Christian supremacy. Trump amplified the part the GOP establishment mostly kept quiet, but he didn’t invent it.
So if Trump suddenly disappears from office, the GOP will still look a lot like it does under Trump. Maybe some of Trump’s successors will try to tone down the rhetoric a little. A President Mike Pence may even make bland statements that sound conciliatory noises, but his policies won’t be any different than Trump’s, and in fact may be worse, because he’s a true believer.
In her new book, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley (who clearly has presidential ambitions) recently published a book about her experiences in the White House. Haley was one of the few people to leave the administration in Trump’s good graces and with her reputation intact. But her book is a full-throated defense of Trump and, in her eyes, his truthfulness. David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and a Trump critic, said Haley “has placed a big bet that the Republican future will be almost as Trump-y as the recent Republican past.”
That’s a shrewd bet. The Republican party has painted itself into a corner. It’s doubled down on its core base, instead of trying to reach out to new groups, as its own 2012 post-mortem suggested. The party has no choice but to keep going down a path into the fever swamps of conspiracy theories. They’ve already become comfortable with power plays designed to solidify their grasp on the system, even though a majority of Americans disagree.
No matter when Trump leaves office – and that’s not likely to happen before January 2021 – the GOP will keep his legacy alive. And why not? It’s the party’s legacy too.