Tevi Troy asks whether Trump’s campaign could end up completely reshaping the Republican Party.
There’s an element missing from the Trump phenomenon as a broad political movement, as opposed to a presidential campaign. The Trump movement has its base — the 37 percent of GOP primary voters who cast a ballot for him — and it has Trump at its top. What it lacks so far is much of a middle, a group of like-minded political leaders eager to enact the Trump agenda in legislatures and state capitols. There’s not much sign of a Trump-ist caucus in the House and Senate, and it’s unlikely there will be one for a while, if ever. So far only one senator, three governors, and seven House members have endorsed him.
There are a lot of figures who one part of the Trump formula, but not all, and who have hit a much lower ceiling in American politics. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee offered their version of “blue-collar conservatism” this cycle and flopped.
A lot of Trump’s policy offerings — vehement opposition to illegal immigration and free trade, a somewhat isolationist foreign policy, more than a little “blood and soil” nationalism – were offered by Pat Buchanan in past decades; you notice there was no clear Buchanan heir in Republican politics until now. Before the rise of ISIS, the congressional GOP was more reticent about foreign intervention under Obama, but certainly few Republican lawmakers are dismissing NATO as obsolete or calling for arming South Korea and Japan with nuclear weapons as Trump has done.
Trump’s preeminent fuels are his status as a celebrity from outside of politics – Saturday Night Live already had members of the cast impersonating him, long before he announced a presidential bid – and his style. Trump makes the most outrageous and controversial remarks and rarely suffers any long-term consequence; television – from the Sunday shows to the news networks to Jimmy Fallon to SNL love hosting him, even if they detest the things he says. No aspiring Trump-ite will be able to emulate this.
It’s almost impossible for Trump’s style to work for anyone else. Other political figures tend to find outrageous remarks hurt them – think of Alan Grayson, Carl Paladino, Sharron Angle. Even with the media usually preferring them, Democrats can get burned a provocative comment; think of Bruce Braley scoffing at farmers in Iowa, Martha Coakley calling Red Sox pitcher Curt Schlling “just another Yankee fan” in Massachusetts, or Wendy Davis declaring her parapeligic opponent “hasn’t walked a day in my shoes.”
In the 2018 midterm cycle, we may see a lot of previously-little-known Republican candidates aspiring to be Trump and aping his style. But very few will be able to pull it off; they’ll just get turned into more Todd Akins instead of charmingly roguish provocateurs.