Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is giving his adopted party a lot to think about. He has offered radically different approaches to trade, immigration, the size of government and national defense.
Now Republicans are debating whether, win or lose, Donald Trump has permanently altered their party’s DNA.
1. Is Trump unique? Or is there such a thing as Trumpism?
This is the fundamental chicken-and-egg question for Republicans. Did Donald Trump take over the Republican Party only because he’s a billionaire reality TV celebrity who knew better than anyone, ever, how to dominate the media? Or did this all exist already within the party and is there such a thing as Trumpism that will live on regardless of whether Trump himself becomes president?
Some Republicans, like hotly anti-Trump Florida GOP strategist Rick Wilson, think Trump is one of a kind, a black-swan candidate. Wilson, who is an outspoken “Never Trumper” — he’s running the campaign of independent candidate Evan McMullin — points to Sen. Marco Rubio’s primary victory in Florida this week. Carlos Beruff, Rubio’s opponent, was a multi-multimillionaire developer who ran as a Trump mini-me. As Wilson puts it, Beruff had the “tough-guy swagger: build the wall, ship them home, that whole act,” but Rubio ended up beating him by the curvature of the earth.
That, says Wilson, proves that without Trump the man, Trumpism falls flat. “Without the showmanship, the TV star personality,” Wilson said, “Trumpism is a dead letter.”
Of course, Rubio was the incumbent with very high name identification. And other Republicans say Trump has tapped into something very real in the GOP that’s not going away anytime soon. Gary Bauer, a conservative activist and a Trump supporter, said rather than making the Republican Party different, Trump is reflecting a Republican Party that’s already changed.
As the Washington establishment grew increasingly out of touch with its voter base, Trump, Bauer said, “understood where our votes were coming from. And I’m still fairly optimistic he’s going to win. But whatever happens, I think it’s going to be very hard for the Republican Party to go back to the agenda that it had before.”
The agenda it had before didn’t care much about preserving Social Security or keeping young people out of endless foreign wars. It was an agenda, Bauer contended, that left out the working class, who are now the base of the Republican Party.