by Scott Greer
Republican Glenn Youngkin’s surprise win in Virginia inspired a deluge of takes. Liberals claim it shows white Virginians are racist. Conservatives say it augurs a Red Wave in 2022. And one of the favorite takes on both sides of the aisle is that the election shows the GOP moving beyond Donald Trump.
A number of conservatives went a bit further, arguing Republicans no longer need Trump and the former president only serves as dead weight on the party. “It’s time for the GOP to move beyond Trump the candidate and figure out preserving the Trump policies voters embrace,” Erick Erickson argued. “The GOP can win, just not with Trump himself moving forward. His voters will have to decide if they want him or his policies. With the former, they’ll get nothing. With the latter, they could get everything they want.”
“The new conservative movement is finally bigger than Trump,” radio host Matt Walsh tweeted. “It cannot go back to revolving around him again. We will destroy all of this work and all of these gains if it does. It will all be for nothing if it reverts back to being merely a Trump fan club.”
“Trump is so over,” Ann Coulter declared.
National Review editor Rich Lowry at least acknowledged that Youngkin could not have won without “MAGA voters.” But he insists that Youngkin earned their vote without any help from Trump, proving that the party can dispense with the former president.
In other words, the conservative commentariat says it’s time to dump Trump. There was a similar consensus in 2016, and we all know how that went.
There are two different factions that want a Trump-free GOP. There is the old Never Trump guard that wants to return the GOP to the pre-Trump era. They want a party that acts like Paul Ryan and upholds Business First attitudes. On the other side are those who want Trumpism without Trump. They like the populist policies Trump advocated for, but feel he failed to implement them and is too toxic to win in 2024. They want someone more respectable to carry the torch.
In spite of their policy disagreements, both sides agree that someone new should lead the party.
This idea makes sense on Twitter, but it’s not shared by the majority of Republican voters in the real world. Every single poll on Republican preferences for 2024 puts Trump well ahead of the competition. A Harvard CAPS-Harris poll released on the same day of the Virginia election showed 47% of GOP voters prefer the Donald as their presidential nominee. No other name even broke double digits. Trump’s numbers among Americans in general are also strong. Most recent polls show him beating Joe Biden in a rematch.
Trump continues to hold massive influence within the party itself. No Republican candidate in a tough primary wants to be seen as the guy “moving beyond Trump.” Every serious GOP candidate insists they are a huge Trump supporter and beg for his endorsement. Just look at Glenn Youngkin.
Youngkin presented himself as a loyal Trump supporter ahead of the nominating convention in May. He didn’t ignore Trump or attack Trump—he embraced him. This helped him secure the nomination and led to Trump’s endorsement, which unified the party ahead of the election. We all know that Youngkin kept Trump at a distance as he campaigned in the general election. But the candidate never once criticized his patron and said he would happily back Trump in 2024. That’s not quite moving beyond Trump. That’s simply being tactical in a state Trump lost by 10 points.
In competitive primaries throughout the country, candidates present themselves as proud Trump supporters. A Trump endorsement for a candidate is likely to scare away challengers. We can see this in the Georgia Senate primary. Several serious candidates, including two former senators and a popular congressman, eyed the race. But they refused to jump in over the foreknowledge that Herschel Walker, a close Trump friend, would run. They all knew that they could not hope to win the primary against someone with Trump’s full backing. That demonstrates the continuing power of the party’s true leader.
Things are not going well for those who wanted to get rid of Trump. Two of the 10 Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment retired due to their poor re-election chances. It’s expected more from that group will follow. All of the remaining ones face competitive primaries. Even Republicans who want to get rid of Trump still play nice with him. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell absolutely hates Trump and even considered voting for his impeachment after January 6. Now the Kentucky senator says he will support him if he’s the GOP nominee again. So much for moving beyond Trump.
Much of the hope in a Trumpless GOP lies with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. People believe that he is the one who can make Trumpism without Trump a reality. They even believe DeSantis can challenge and defeat Trump in a Republican primary. DeSantis’s fans, however, overlook how much the governor’s popularity depends on Trump. DeSantis always praises Trump and even imitates his mannerisms. Watch a DeSantis speech and see how much his movements resemble Trump on the stump. He follows Trump’s act closely.
If DeSantis did challenge Trump in 2024, he would lose. DeSantis lacks Trump’s charisma and magic before crowds. DeSantis often looks down at notecards and repeats carefully crafted lines. Trump whips up massive crowds for 90 minutes with off-the-cuff remarks and politically incorrect jokes. DeSantis lacks the name recognition and star power. The base does not see him as the leader—Trump is their leader.
The key issue with moving beyond Trump is there is no one to replace him as the central figure. The suggested alternatives lack the charisma and the populist instincts to take over from Trump.
There are issues with Trump’s electability, but people often forget the main problem here. It’s not due to his controversial remarks or his actions while in office. It’s the fact that he’s unpersoned. Trump can’t have a Twitter or Facebook account. Videos of his speeches get taken down from YouTube for violating its dubious “Terms of Service.” This censorship can be extended to TV networks refusing to run his ads and financial institutions cancelling his accounts. There’s even the chance venues would refuse to host Trump rallies due to regime pressure. It’s hard to run a 21st century presidential campaign when you’re banned from every single social media platform, payment processor, and TV station.
This will likely make Trump’s base more loyal to him—but it will also decrease his chances of re-election. It’s short-sighted to look at this situation and conclude that the best thing to do is to run Ron DeSantis. There’s something fundamentally wrong with our system when it can unperson the President of the United States. It may be better to run Trump and show the regime to be a sham rather than hope a more presentable candidate wins with a watered-down platform. What good is a democracy if Google and Facebook can veto Republican party nominees?
Trump wants to run again, but he knows the hurdles he faces. Even if he ultimately decides against it, he will still loom large in the party. You can expect several candidates in 2022 to beg Trump to rally for them. A 2024 presidential field without Trump will likely resemble primary contests right now. Every candidate will tout their Trumpist credentials and emphasize how much they liked him as president. Whoever gets the nomination will depend on Trump’s support to unify the party and win the election. He will still be the central figure of the party until a candidate is selected at the 2024 convention. And that candidate is favored to be Trump.
Unless a worthy successor rises to the throne in 2024 (or 2028), it’s still Trump’s party.
Scott Greer is the host of the popular Highly Respected Podcast