Today’s politics are absolutely, top-to-bottom, full-spectrum Trumpified — from discussions of the funding showdown over border wall to the Mueller investigation to tariffs to Trump’s Twitter fights to cabinet shuffles to the showdown to the Democrats’ agenda in the House to investigate anything and everything the administration has done. Rarely has one figure and larger-than-life, endlessly combative personality so dominated the discourse and national agenda.
From the perspective of today, it’s hard to picture what post-Trump politics will look like, and it’s understandable that Trump would be more focused on the here and now than who carries the torch after him.
But it’s fair to ask at this moment: Who’s equipped to hold the Trump coalition together? Vice President Mike Pence is clearly a wildly different personality, and it is easy to picture some Trump supporters finding Pence too nice, too vanilla, too establishment and too boring to truly continue “Trumpism” as a political agenda. Trump undoubtedly sees his family as key advisors, but so far none of them have indicated a serious interest in running for office.
There are plenty of Republicans who are working in Trump’s administration because he’s a Republican president, not because they fully signed on to the agenda articulated during the 2016 campaign. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions might once have been a key figure to continue the Trump philosophy on immigration, but obviously his relationship with Trump and presumably many of his supporters is irreparably damaged. Almost everyone leaves the cabinet on bad terms, plenty have left tainted by spending scandals, and some cabinet members became outright critics, like Rex Tillerson.
Most high-level Trump supporters who try to emulate the president fall flat on their face when they try to be a separate leader, like Steve Bannon. When the Trump’s style is imitated by a lesser personality — Don Blankenship would be Exhibit A — it rarely works.
There is no natural ideological successor, which suggests that if or when Trump retires after two terms, is defeated after one, is impeached, or however he departs the stage, there will be no one who will be able to bring together the same factions in the same way. How much will Trumpism influence American politics after Trump’s presidency?