The popular narrative circulating in Washington is that Donald Trump is finished. Even if, after a while, he tries to make a comeback, his brand has become so toxic that it’s unlikely he can dominate the Republican stage anymore. He won’t be invited to speak at Republican gatherings. He won’t be asked to campaign for GOP candidates. He will be shunned by the Republican Party now and forevermore.
Indeed, losing access to Twitter crippled Trump and his ability to communicate with his followers. But no one has taken away his email account. And there are other social media platforms that would be happy to host him.
As far as the GOP, most party members will be glad to see the back of him. But Donald Trump still has the support of millions of Americans. For many, he will still be their president. There are many congressional districts where candidates would be glad to campaign with Trump and be seen with him because even though opposition to the soon-to-be-former president is likely to become even more unhinged than it is now, there will be plenty of voters who like and admire him.
In short, Donald Trump isn’t going anywhere despite many Republicans wishing he’d just disappear and not bother them anymore.
A civil war has opened up within the party between Mr Trump’s defiant loyalists and a growing cast of critics, and between Republican lawmakers and their disillusioned corporate donors. The party is split on whether to engage with the incoming administration of Joe Biden or obstruct it.
Adding to these dilemmas is the question of the party’s relationship with Mr Trump and his family once he leaves office. Members of the First Family have repeatedly threatened to crush any Republican who did not support the president’s efforts to overturn the election.
A recent poll tells the tale. “According to a snap YouGov survey released on Thursday, just 27 percent of Republicans considered the attack on the Capitol a threat to democracy, while 45 percent of them approved of the storming of the halls of Congress.”
Other polls show less support for the assault on the Capitol. But what’s undeniable is that there are many members of Congress who have quite different opinions of Trump than their constituents.
“There’s very high tension running between members’ conscience, and what their constituents want,” said Brendan Buck, a former senior Republican congressional aide, and a partner at Seven Letter, a consultancy in Washington. “I am hesitant to think that this is going to cause any real sea change.”
Where does that leave the party? Trump will lead the grassroots, but what of the rest?
“He truly made this party’s grassroots strength a cult of personality,” [former senior Trump administration official Tony] Fratto said. “And unlike any other president who has lost, he has no intention of leaving the arena. And he has no intention of stopping his leadership of that faction of the party. So I think it’s going to be very rocky,” he said. Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican representative from Florida, said the majority of his former GOP colleagues in Congress had come to accept the reality that Trumpism was no longer a “long-term strategy” for the party.
It’s not a long-term strategy if Republicans want to keep losing national elections. The Electoral College has tipped decisively against them, and demographic changes would appear to cement that advantage.
Perhaps the GOP is destined to be a regional party, dominant in some parts of the country, virtually invisible in others. Republicans have done very well in the minority before and there’s no reason to think they couldn’t do it again.
Trump will be a force in the party for years to come, despite many Republicans wishing otherwise. His hold on millions of people will continue and as long as it does, the GOP — for better or worse — will be forced to deal with him.