Republican: A New Beginning
The attack on the Capitol shocked the U.S. as a whole, but it was especially disastrous for the Republican Party. Since his nomination in 2016, Trump has defined the presidency with his own brawling, populist image. But while many Republicans have long been uncomfortable with Trump’s nationalist politics and abrasive style, they turned a blind eye for the sake of party unity. However, Trump inspiring his loyalists to assault the Capitol is a step too far. As Donald Trump Jr. himself explained to a rally crowd soon before the Capitol riots, “this isn’t their Republican Party anymore. This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party.” The right-wing extremists can not be put off any longer; centrist Republicans can no longer turn a blind eye to their violent rationalization—the riots were a failed coup, and each Republican should question whether they will be complicit in the attempted dismantling of American democracy. In the coming weeks and years, the Republican Party must rebrand itself, creating a distinctly separate identity from the far-right extremism of Trump’s Republican Party.
The Republican Party’s strength has always lain in its ability to present a united front and consolidate support towards a single political platform. For the past four years, that support has favored Trump. For four years, conservative politicians and media outlets banded together and set their differences aside as the Democratic Party hindered its own progress in ad nauseam conflict. Yet now, the growing fracture in the Republican Party is slowly destroying that united front.
Already, signs of cracks within the Republican Party and its allies are beginning to show. While more far right-wing news outlets like Newsmax continue to pander to Trump’s conspiracy theories of a rigged election, Fox News, previously a staunch supporter of Trump, changed its tune in light of Trump’s push to undo election results. Since the Capitol riots, 10 Republicans have voted to impeach Trump, Mitch McConnell has begun to condemn him, and Mike Pence has reportedly had a falling-out with Trump. As the previous Senate majority leader and Washington’s most powerful Republican, McConnell’s increasingly critical view of Trump could ease the transition for other GOP lawmakers turning against him. Increasing numbers of previously Trump-supporting Republicans are turning on the President, distancing themselves and the GOP away from the notoriety of the Trump-led party.
However, at its root, the Republican Party’s divisive factor is not President Trump, his claims of election fraud, or the Capitol riots. The issue is that there is a worryingly large, growing number of people who support Trump and his extreme platform for one reason or another. Once Trump leaves office, there will be another Trump, with similar stances and a similar personal image, manipulating the same voters. There is a common thread of an “us versus them” ideology present in radical right-wingers, whose irrational fears and suspicions are only further exploited by Trump. His toxic rhetoric legitimizes hate-fueled extremism and brings it to the forefront of the Republican Party. Only by confronting the present hatred can centrist Republicans redefine a party image separate from Trump. Only by isolating the extremists and rebranding the Republican Party will Republicans decrease the chances of another Trump rising to power.
This is a pivotal moment in the GOP’s history, where each Republican must decide whether to continue down the current destructive path or veer away. While the party certainly has the possibility to spiral into pro-Trump extremism, this is an opportunity for the Republican Party to break away from Trump’s divisive and destructive rhetoric. Both the upcoming Trump impeachment trial and later Republican primaries will prove to be key moments in the fight for the soul of the Republican Party. McConnell and reliable Senate Republican allies will have to refocus the party on maintaining democracy and driving out the party’s fever-swamp conspiracists. Yet not only must Republicans draw a clear line regarding morality and reassert its faith in facts, but it must also consider the policies and priorities of a post-Trump era. The most feasible transformation would be a more socially moderate, fiscally conservative platform that is business-oriented, advocates for economic freedom and enterprise, and has strong military ties—a return to an older version of Republicanism. Should Republicans succeed in rebranding and distancing themselves from Trumpism and right-wing conspiracists, they’ll regain a sense of legitimacy and potentially open themselves to more bipartisan projects. Should they cling to Trump and continue to follow him, Republicans risk an implosion or complete transformation of their party.