What Happened to the GOP Establishment?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

I’m old enough to remember the Tea Party revolution, when upstart conservatives challenged GOP incumbents who seemed far more interested in getting along with Democrats than in fighting for conservative values. I supported now-Rep. Nancy Mace’s (R-S.C.) long shot campaign against Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in 2014. He was a squish’s squish, if ever there was one. Now, he’s a conservative stalwart.

Graham provides a central example of how the GOP changed during President Donald Trump’s term. The president didn’t entirely change the Republican Party, but he did embolden Republican leadership and push the squishes to the margins of the party.

The Never Trump grifters of the Lincoln Project once enjoyed prominence in the GOP. Not only have sexual assault allegations wreaked havoc on the Lincoln Project, but the 2020 GOP primaries demonstrated that more than 90 percent of the GOP has aligned with Trump.

The Republican establishment had once surrendered on social issues, but Trump championed religious freedom and now the GOP establishment fights for conscience rights. While Democrats have gotten more rabid, Republicans have also decided to stop caving.

Trump fought the Left on issue after issue, from abortion to climate alarmism to transgenderism to illegal immigration to religious freedom and more. Even though he lost reelection, he reinvigorated the GOP’s willingness to stand up to the Left’s insanity.

Thanks to Trump, the conservative warriors have become the new GOP establishment. The Republican Party did well down ballot in the 2020 elections, gaining especially among minority voters. This shows that the vigorous GOP is resonating with Americans. This new GOP has a future with or without Trump on the top of the ticket.

Even Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who voted with the Democrats in the second impeachment effort, reliably fights for a broad array of conservative issues. He is no Lindsey Graham 1.0.

Trump administration veterans have taken up key posts in the institutions that support the GOP. While some Trump conservatives have grown concerned about Fox News, the outlet just hired former Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. The Heritage Foundation snatched up Mike Pence.

This does not guarantee that the Trumpian makeover of the GOP is entirely a good thing. While Trump was in his rights to contest the 2020 election, his claims that he won the election “by a landslide” were entirely false. Trump is not responsible for the actions of the violent rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6, but he did hesitate to condemn them in the same terms he rightly used against the Black Lives Matter and antifa rioters of the summer.

Even in his excellent CPAC speech this past weekend, Trump claimed that he had won the 2020 election. While I believe election integrity concerns still plague the 2020 election, this claim was dangerous when Clinton repeatedly made it and it’s dangerous when Trump says it, too.

Trump has a complex legacy — an excellent record on conservative issues but an unfortunate penchant for exaggeration that has gotten him into trouble.

That said, Trump’s impact on the GOP establishment has mostly been positive, and conservatives have a great deal to be thankful for.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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