After losing a national election, it’s natural that a political party goes through a period of soul-searching and internal turmoil.
The Republican Party, though, has taken it to another level.
President Donald Trump brought most of the GOP along for the ride during his conspiracy-fueled attempt to overturn the election.
His loyalists have been scouring the landscape searching for Republicans to censure or primary for insufficient loyalty to him.
The most famous Republican House freshman mused not too long ago about a space laser starting the 2018 California wildfires.
And Trump has maintained his hold on the party seemingly effortlessly.
This dismaying chapter has led to declarations that the party is doomed or calls to split it up.
A former chair of the Washington state GOP wrote in an op-ed in The Seattle Times urging, as the headline put it, “Let’s form a new Republican Party.” This prompted a Chris Cillizza item at CNN headlined, “Should Republicans disband the GOP?”
There’s been a spate of articles by erstwhile Republicans announcing they are done with the party.
Jonathan Last wrote a piece in The New Republic titled: “The Republican Party is dead. It is the Trump cult now.” Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker declared, “The party isn’t doomed; it’s dead.”
This seems a mite premature about a party that represents roughly half the country and is on the cusp of a majority in the House, tied 50-50 in the Senate, and in control of the governorships in 27 states and both the governorship and state legislature in 22 of those.
If we are going to consider this geographically diverse collection of officeholders — whose careers in many instances pre-date Trump and will outlast him — a mere personality cult, the word “cult” has lost its meaning.
The fortunes of our political parties ebb and flow and their iterations change over time, but they are deeply embedded institutions of our public life.
As Dan McLaughlin, my colleague at National Review, points out, the Republican Party has, since its inception, been a fusion of a classic liberal wing with a more populist, elemental conservatism.
What’s different about Trump is that he represents the ascendance of the populist wing after it had long been in a subordinate position in the party. Even he, though, retained key traditional policy priorities of the GOP, from tax cuts and judges to religious liberty and abortion.
That said, the party does need to get beyond Trump, who is a three-time loser now — in the 2018 midterms, in his 2020 reelection campaign, and in the Georgia special elections. In electoral terms, “all the winning” stopped circa November 2016.
It if feels now as though the post-Trump GOP will never arrive, American politics moves quickly. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974, leaving the GOP in utter disarray — and yet Reagan won a landslide six years later. The Tea Party sprang to life from nowhere in 2009 and had disappeared by 2016, subsumed into the Trump phenomenon.
There will inevitably be an overwhelming controversy in the Biden administration or a crisis that moves us beyond the politics of the Trump presidency and the immediate aftermath.
New issues will emerge, and there are plenty of talented, ambitious Republican politicians who think they are better suited to win a presidential election and serve as president than Donald Trump 2.0. The incentives are for them to slipstream behind Trump for now, but that won’t always be true.
The temptation to splinter from the GOP might be alluring to elements of both the populists and the Republican traditionalists, but this a dead end.
The Republican Party is the only plausible electoral vehicle for any sort of right-of-center politics in America. It is worth fighting over, and it will be.
That struggle is sure to be toxic and unpredictable — except for the fact that at the end of the day the Grand Old Party will still be standing.
Rich Lowry is editor of National Review