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Opinion | How Trump hurts GOP populism

The choice between this and a “more normal” nomination battle is entirely up to Trump and Trump.

Perhaps not since Dwight Eisenhower turned down Harry Truman’s requests to run for President as Democrat and threw his hat in the ring when a Republican had someone who had such a “yes or no” influence on the direction of a party and in a broader sense to which the nation had politics.

Trump’s continued rule has been a boon to Trumpists – the former president’s toughest cadre – but it’s a problem for Trumpism, at least if the term is meant to mean more than personal loyalty to the man himself. His staying power, in particular, could overshadow and distort the development of the party’s populist wing, which should be more than stop the steal and clinging to a man.

It’s almost impossible to fathom how Trump has defied political gravity since the election.

He lost last November, adding more than his share to the Georgia Senate’s losses, which added trillions of dollars to what Joe Biden can plausibly spend.

He has no formal power while moving carrier groups and signing executive orders a few months ago.

He’s not on social media, so the nation’s political talk is no longer driven by his tweets.

He does some traditional media, but is nowhere near as ubiquitous as it was when he kept holding impromptu press conferences all the time on the way to Marine One.

Yet his influence on the party has hardly loosened, if at all.


Most importantly, he avoided the stink of a loser by falsely claiming that his rightful victory last November was stolen from him and convinced most Republicans to believe it or to go along with it for reasons of intra-party friendship.

He bonded with his constituents on a cultural level much deeper than any of his policies, and forged a lasting bond with Republicans who consider him an advocate of their way of life.

His constituents still think he’s the only one in the GOP who really gets the threat from the left, and the only one willing to fight the savagery demanded.

After all, they believe Trump is being haunted by censored social media companies and fear they might be next.

The lesson from Liz Cheney’s defenestration is not that you have to accept all of this or lie about the theft of the elections, but you cannot face these feelings directly and expect to survive in a leadership position in the party.

Mitch McConnell, who has made his contempt for Trump and outrage over Jan. 6 plain enough, has more cautiously declined to explain his known views and is not as quick to oust (it helps) lead the GOP caucus in the Senate and not in the House of Representatives).

But there is no doubt that what it means to be a populist in Trump mode is overly determined by Trump himself.

Until recently, Elise Stefanik was a relatively moderate Republican from New York State. It became Cheney’s most preferred option for the party’s populists by turning to Stop the Steal, an issue that ultimately represents a dead end for the party.

The Trump effect can be clearly seen in Republican politics in Ohio. One would think that Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who appeared at an event held by the populist politics business American Compass last year on creating working class conservatism, would have more populist credibility than longtime Senate candidate Josh Mandel Rekord as an ordinary Republican. But Gonzalez voted to indict Trump and so he is being censored by his own party, and Mandel deserves populist points by calling him a “traitor”.

On the flip side, another likely Senate candidate, JD Vance, who advocates sincere and thoughtful populism, has to answer for his lack of enthusiasm for Trump in 2016.

If Trump chooses to run again, it could be that he is less dominant than advertised, but regardless, he will be ruling out potential candidates like Missouri Senator Josh Hawley who are most determined to be Trump’s direct successor to run.

You, like most of the others in the group, will have to hold your breath until Trump comes down one way or another in 2023.

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