NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, November 9th, 2020

What’s next for the Republicans following Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s defeat?

The death knell of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­cy start­ed sound­ing in the ear­ly hours of Novem­ber 6th, as Joe Biden over­took him in Penn­syl­va­nia and Georgia.

As the fall­out of the 2020 elec­tion becomes ever more clear, many are ques­tion­ing what is next for the Repub­li­can Par­ty itself. Will they be able to shake off the specter of Trump­ism and piv­ot to some ver­sion of polit­i­cal normality?

Or will they con­tin­ue to orbit the malig­nant influ­ence of Trump, per­haps even degen­er­at­ing into some­thing worse? These ques­tions will like­ly be answered in the next qua­dren­ni­al elec­tion cycle, when the Repub­li­cans will have to choose a new fig­ure­head. Which can­di­dates will be able to win over the party?

A return to convention? 

Even before Novem­ber 3rd, there were signs that some mem­bers of the Repub­li­can Par­ty were chaf­ing under Trump’s yoke – signs which mul­ti­plied as it became clear­er that he would lose. As Trump made increas­ing­ly out­ra­geous claims (includ­ing as the votes were being count­ed), major fig­ures in the par­ty – includ­ing top Sen­ate Repub­li­can Mitch McConnell – pushed back against his rhetoric and tried to restore con­fi­dence in the vot­ing process.

This push­back – rem­i­nis­cent of the “nev­er-trumper” wing of the Repub­li­can Par­ty that Trump has large­ly intim­i­dat­ed into silence over the past four years – could be the start of a revival for a more tra­di­tion­al form of Repub­li­can politics.

If this wing of the par­ty were to gain trac­tion, there are a num­ber of high-rank­ing fig­ures that could take advan­tage of any back­lash against Trumpism.

The most august of these indi­vid­u­als is, with­out doubt, Sen­a­tor Mitt Romney.

Rom­ney, who rep­re­sents Utah, has already head­ed the Repub­li­can Par­ty’s tick­et once before, los­ing to Barack Oba­ma in 2012.

He has spent his time as a U.S. sen­a­tor open­ly offer­ing a con­trast to Trump’s vision of Repub­li­can­ism, most notably when he became the only sen­a­tor in Unit­ed States his­to­ry to vote to con­vict a pres­i­dent from his own par­ty. It’s rare for a los­ing can­di­date to make a come­back, but it has hap­pened before – Richard Nixon lost to John F. Kennedy in 1960, only to win the pres­i­den­cy eight years later.

Ben Sasse has harshly criticized Donald Trump

Ben Sasse has harsh­ly crit­i­cized Don­ald Trump (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Mitt Romney’s age (he will be sev­en­ty-sev­en in 2024) makes it unlike­ly he will run, but there are a vari­ety of younger can­di­dates who fit his polit­i­cal mold. Sen­a­tor Ben Sasse of Nebras­ka has crit­i­cized Trump since the lat­ter won the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion in 2016 (although he votes for Trump’s agen­da almost all the time). In recent weeks, he has ramped up his attacks on the Pres­i­dent, call­ing him a “TV-obsessed, nar­cis­sis­tic indi­vid­ual” in a meet­ing with his constituents.

Aside from Trump’s direct crit­ics, there are also a good num­ber of Repub­li­cans who have kept their heads down for the past cou­ple of years, but hold more mod­er­ate views than the president.

Expect fig­ures like South Car­oli­na Sen­a­tor Tim Scott (who turned heads with his RNC speech), Flori­da Sen­a­tor Mar­co Rubio, and former‑U.N. Ambas­sador Nik­ki Haley to start test­ing the waters for a future White House bid.

Nikki Haley is one of the most high-profile women in Republican politics

Nik­ki Haley is one of the most high-pro­file women in Repub­li­can pol­i­tics (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)


Of course, there is no guar­an­tee of a return to any­thing like “busi­ness as usual.”

Trump is, after all, not an aber­ra­tion but a symp­tom of a deep-root­ed dis­ease in his par­ty (and the nation as a whole). What’s more, Trump has repeat­ed­ly sig­naled his inten­tion to remain a polit­i­cal influ­encer even if he is oust­ed from the White House and the Repub­li­can Par­ty is in no posi­tion to resist his malign influ­ence. Indeed, there has already been spec­u­la­tion that Trump may mobi­lize his per­son­al­i­ty cult to re-nom­i­nate him for the pres­i­den­cy in 2024.

I think that event is unlike­ly, espe­cial­ly once Trump real­izes that he doesn’t need the trap­pings of the Oval Office to sway large swathes of the Repub­li­can Par­ty, why go to the both­er of cam­paign­ing, when you can remote­ly sway a nom­i­na­tion from the com­fort of a Mar-a-Lago suite?

Instead, expect an ex-pres­i­dent Trump to inces­sant­ly tweet and call Fox anchors like Sean Han­ni­ty, try­ing to boost who­ev­er his pre­ferred crony hap­pens to be.

If you thought the spec­ta­cle of peo­ple pros­trat­ing them­selves before Trump has been bad before now, expect it to get much worse in the com­ing four years.

Fig­ures like Mike Pence, Geor­gia Gov­er­nor Bri­an Kemp, and Flori­da Gov­er­nor Ron DeSan­tis rode Trump’s coat­tails into pow­er – their polit­i­cal ambi­tions will rely on pan­der­ing to a retiree’s whims every day for the next four years.

Speculation is rife that Don Jr. will take up his father's mantle

Spec­u­la­tion is rife that Don Jr. will take up his father’s man­tle (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced by Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Repub­li­cans may even decide to keep it in the fam­i­ly – both Ivan­ka Trump and Don­ald Trump Jr. have been tout­ed as poten­tial future contenders.

Although Ivanka’s lifestyle and mar­riage could turn off a large part of the elder Trump’s rad­i­cal­ized base, Don­ald Jr. has become a Repub­li­can star in his own right, becom­ing the party’s most sought-after sur­ro­gate in the 2020 election.

Can it get worse? Oh yes…

It’s tempt­ing to think that Don­ald Trump rep­re­sents the nadir of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, but unfor­tu­nate­ly, things can get much worse. Don­ald Trump’s poli­cies are mon­strous and his opin­ions are hideous. For­tu­nate­ly, his agen­da over the last four years has large­ly been stymied by his circle’s ram­pant cor­rup­tion and his own total incom­pe­tence in using the machin­ery of government.

In ‘Homage to Cat­alo­nia,’ a mem­oir of the Span­ish Civ­il War, George Orwell reflects that although the fas­cists might win the war (they ulti­mate­ly did), life would not be as unen­durable in Spain as in oth­er fas­cist coun­tries because of the lais­sez-faire, sies­ta-lov­ing Span­ish way of life.

Don­ald Trump can per­haps be com­pared to the author­i­tar­i­ans who ruled Spain from the 1930s – mon­strous and big­ot­ed, yes, but too cor­rupt and lazy to pur­sue his aims to their log­i­cal con­clu­sion. What hap­pens when a can­di­date comes along with Trump’s ideas, and a Ger­man sense of efficiency?

In the words of New York Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, “do you know how many Trumps there are in waiting?”

Mis­souri Sen­a­tor Josh Haw­ley has already embraced Trump’s brand of faux pop­ulism: rail­ing against coastal elites, despite hav­ing risen to pow­er through Har­vard, Yale and a D.C. law firm; lam­bast­ing big tech com­pa­nies for a “busi­ness mod­el of addic­tion,” while boost­ing con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries that rely on social media to thrive; and por­tray­ing him­self as an eco­nom­ic pop­ulist while destroy­ing labor unions and oppos­ing min­i­mum wage raises.

Dan Crenshaw is an idol to young conservatives

Dan Cren­shaw is an idol to young con­ser­v­a­tives (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Mean­while, in Texas, a for­mer Navy SEAL has gar­nered a rep­u­ta­tion as Repub­li­cans’ “best answer to AOC,” due to his youth, out­spo­ken style, and pirat­i­cal charis­ma. With half a mil­lion fol­low­ers, Dan Cren­shaw is the most pop­u­lar House Repub­li­can on Twit­ter, and like both AOC and Don­ald Trump he used a savvy approach to social media to out­play his own party’s establishment.

How­ev­er, the com­par­isons to AOC and pro­gres­sives stop there.

Cren­shaw has spent much of 2020 throw­ing doubt on the sci­ence of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic, he sup­ports slash­ing Social Secu­ri­ty and Med­ic­aid, and wants to keep troops in Afghanistan indef­i­nite­ly.

The most dan­ger­ous of these can­di­dates, how­ev­er, is undoubt­ed­ly Tom Cot­ton.

Cot­ton is one of Arkansas’ two Unit­ed States Senators.

His calm tem­pera­ment and rel­a­tive­ly steady climb of the polit­i­cal lad­der give him a veneer of respectabil­i­ty, and cred­i­bil­i­ty with the big-mon­ey donors who pow­er Repub­li­can pol­i­tics (many of whom nev­er warmed to Trump’s brash style).

Tom Cotton speaks to New Hampshire Republicans in 2016

Tom Cot­ton speaks to New Hamp­shire Repub­li­cans in 2016 (Pho­to: Michael Vadon, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

How­ev­er he is, if any­thing, even more extreme than Don­ald Trump.

Cotton’s rise to fame in con­ser­v­a­tive cir­cles has been punc­tu­at­ed by a series of nau­se­at­ing let­ters. When he was serv­ing as a sol­dier in Iraq in 2006, he wrote a let­ter call­ing for New York Times war cor­re­spon­dents to be jailed for inves­ti­gat­ing secre­tive gov­ern­ment programs.

In 2015, as a fresh­man sen­a­tor, he led the Repub­li­cans in upend­ing the norms of for­eign pol­i­cy by author­ing a let­ter to the lead­ers of Iran.

Ignor­ing the exec­u­tive branch’s author­i­ty over for­eign affairs (and arguably break­ing the law in the process), Cotton’s let­ter tried to tear down years of sen­si­tive nego­ti­a­tions between the U.S. and Iran by threat­en­ing Iran­ian lead­ers and promis­ing to renege on any deal made.

Trump lat­er fol­lowed Cotton’s advice, and aban­doned the JCPOA.

Cot­ton has also writ­ten op-eds call­ing civ­il rights activists “race-hus­tling char­la­tans,” described slav­ery as a “nec­es­sary evil,” and called the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter a “polit­i­cal hate group.”

His most famous let­ter of all, though, has to be his New York Times op-ed call­ing for mil­i­tary force against peace­ful pro­test­ers – a threat so dis­turb­ing that it led to a pub­lic apol­o­gy and he res­ig­na­tion of the NYT’s Opin­ion Edi­tor. Cot­ton nev­er apol­o­gized, and his cam­paign fundrais­ing report­ed­ly quin­tu­pled after the article.

Cot­ton hasn’t just made emp­ty threats, but has used his posi­tion of pow­er to active­ly car­ry out cru­el­ty. In 2015, Cot­ton blocked the nom­i­na­tion of an African-Amer­i­can nom­i­nee for an ambas­sador­ship, telling the nom­i­nee that he saw it as “a way to inflict spe­cial pain” on the first Black president.

Cot­ton has also led Repub­li­can efforts to crush immi­gra­tion reform and restrict entry for refugees. Cotton’s record of bad votes spans from hyp­o­crit­i­cal (as when he vot­ed against the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment giv­ing stu­dent loans, despite ben­e­fit­ing from the pro­gram him­self) to down­right depraved (as when he refused to re-autho­rize the Vio­lence Against Women Act).

Joe Biden’s vic­to­ry on Novem­ber 6th was con­vinc­ing, but far from a land­slide. Democ­rats have lit­tle room for error as they try to res­cue the coun­try from the incred­i­ble dam­age wrought by Don­ald Trump’s regime. There are plen­ty of Trump fans itch­ing for the chance to pick up from where Don­ald will leave off.

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