What will the post-Trump GOP look like?

We are just over one year away from 2020, but it is never too early to start asking what the GOP will look like after Trump (whether that is one year or five years away)? The post-Trump Democratic debate will largely be decided by the 2020 nominating contest and is virtually guaranteed to be more progressive than during Obama’s tenure.

Smart Republicans have started positioning themselves to take advantage of the changed GOP under Trump, championing different themes and ideas. The latest entrants in the post Trump GOP sweepstakes came in November when Marco Rubio spoke at the Catholic Church of America’s conference. Rubio spoke about “common good capitalism,” a Catholic themed view of the capitalism which argues the market should be turned to benefit the public good.

Rubio, and Hawley, elected on the coat-tails of Trump, are leading the wing of the GOP who believes Trump’s victory represented a major shift against the market among the GOP faithful. As such, they are seeking to turn the shift among the GOP into a policy agenda which markets a significant change from the modern GOP.

Rubio, Hawley and the others who believe in the supposedly changing views of the GOP, are speaking for a segment of the electorate known as “Market Skeptic Republicans,” identified in Pew’s landmark 2017 political typology study. In the study, and follow-up reports, these Republicans represented only 12 percent of registered voters and 10 percent of the most engaged voters overall.

Market-Skeptic Republicans are far more likely than the rest of the GOP to advocate for higher taxes on the wealthy and call for strengthening social institutions. These voters are also more accepting of abortion and gay marriage than other Republicans but less racially and culturally tolerant.

Of course, the GOP consistently wins 45 to 50 percent of the vote in every election so other groups make up the GOP. Per Pew, these types of voters can be called, “Core Conservatives,” who are traditional market friendly Republicans who downplay social issues, “Country First Conservatives,” who fit more neatly into the Trump GOP due to being more blue-collar and less friendly to immigration and overseas engagements, and finally, New Era Enterprisers” are younger, more diverse, pro-immigration, and pro-business. New Era Enterprisers admittedly are not a large part of the party and tend to be swing voters in elections.

Combined, Core Conservatives and New Era Enterprisers are a majority of the GOP and they have a strong infrastructure developed to help them drive GOP discourse.
It is to these voters other GOP politicians are speaking.

Is Nikki Haley the future of the GOP?

Last Tuesday, leaked copies of former South Carolina Governor and Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley’s book, With All Due Respect, was released.

While the book is somewhat a defense of Trump, arguing some in his administration have worked to undermine his efforts, it is also a sign the GOP is more than just an angry populist base.

In many ways the book is the new millennium’s version of triangulation. While Haley laments the division in America, she also forgives Trump and the voters who elected him. Instead, she turns her fire on the the media, elites and Democratic leadership who play up the division.

In a way, Haley is charting a new course for the GOP which is a more likely playbook; play up all Republicans dislike of the media and elites, maintain friendliness and trust in the markets but also acknowledge the concerns of Market Skeptics and Country Firsters. None of this is to say it will win a national election post-Trump but it is far more likely it will keep the modern GOP coalition closer to intact in the short term.

There are basic assumptions each course assumes. Hawley and Rubio’s path infers Market Skeptic Republicans are a bigger chunk of the GOP base than Pew assumes. Further, they are likely to be a solid wing of the GOP going forward. But, these voters have shown a strong willingness to walk away from the GOP in-masse. Witness Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012 and Democratic gains last year.

By contrast, Haley’s play looks no better. Recent elections indicate the party no longer has a lock on degree – holding suburban dwelling Core Conservatives. While Market Skeptic Republicans fled the party last year they primarily still approve of Trump. College educated voters fled the party last year and disapprove of the modern day GOP. In elections this month, college educated Republicans prevalent in suburbs in Louisiana and Kentucky left the party.

The Trump run GOP has shown in public opinion data an almost uniform weariness of the President’s behavior while also supportive of his policies and ambivalent about his legacy. It is this dynamic Haley is attempting to capitalize on. In a way, Haley and Rubio are attempting to do the same.

The Nikki Haley’s of the GOP are likely buoyed by polls such as Heritage Action, which found in a March 2019 survey The survey found “That 52 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement: I am bothered by some of President Trump’s policies and character, but I support him because I agree with many of the things he stands for, and because I don’t want the media and the Democrats to defeat him.” Yet, sixty-two percent of Republicans identified as either a member of the traditional GOP or a member of the conservative movement. Thirty-two percent identified as part of the Trump movement. No post-Trump Republican can fully walk away from the President. But, neither can they embrace him.

The Republican Divide

It is important for any post-Trump Republican to try and bridge the divides in the party. Historically, party divides are hidden when they control the White House. But, under Trump, the GOP’s have only magnified.

For example, Morning Consult has asked registered Republicans to name their favorite Republican. About 40 percent name Reagan. About a quarter name Trump. Whereas Reagan Republicans are wealthier, more affluent, and identify the economy as their number-one issue, Trump Republicans talk are more downscale, spread among the suburbs and one in five live in a city.

Debates among elected officials and former politicians are nothing new, of course. They have to form strong opinions and bet on them. But, among the general GOP base, which is still widely approving of the President, they were split on whether the GOP had not just substantially, but permanently, changed under Trump, with only 47 percent saying it was permanent in a Morning Consult October survey.

Perhaps the best evidence the GOP has not permanently shifted under Trump to be more government friendly is a 2018 Gallup survey. Per the survey, “71 percent of Republicans had a positive view of capitalism. Supermajorities of both Reagan and Trump Republicans in the Morning Consult poll said it was important to support smaller government, religious freedom, and a wall on the southern border.

Further, “The top three issues for Republicans in the 2018 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) American Values Survey were the economy (44 percent), national security (40 percent), and immigration (36 percent).” The PRRI survey 78 percent of Republicans and Independents supported stricter immigration limits.

Taken together, the best path, based on available data, would combine the best elements of both post-Trump GOP strategies. The best post-Trump candidate would be supportive of capitalism but skeptical of free trade and immigration at all costs. The candidate would be more populist than most GOP candidates for President, but not radically different on economic, social or national security issues. They might be able to be less confrontational on foreign policy, but pacifist they cannot be.

Considering the data hardly fits the narrative the GOP has permanently realigned, one must ask why the web is abuzz with these theories? Well, a couple reasons seem reasonable.

First, politicians are not immune to group-think and personal bias. When you are seeing on Twitter and Facebook your constituents or supporters championing an idea, it is natural to jump on the bandwagon. In the cases of Rubio and Hawley, both states have a GOP strongly supportive of the President, seemingly regardless of what he does or his policies.

Another reason is partisan polarization. Most elected Republicans in Congress know little legislation will pass until Trump is reelected or defeated. So, what else is there to do?

Third, the media plays a major role. Proposals for new taxes, spending and regulations are far less controversial to elites than conversations about immigration, guns and abortion. Conservatives are not immune to wanting to exist in a comfortable media environment.

Ironically, the closest corollary to the realignment of the GOP might be that on the left of the “Rising American Electorate,” promised since Obama’s 2008 election. Backed by promising but limited data, an online bandwagon jumping on the everything is gold theme, and changing demographics, any ideas to the contrary were ignored. Numerous progressive losses in the ensuing elections were ignored even as Democrats spit out policy after policy the public did not support.

Only last year, and elections in gubernatorial contests in Louisiana and Kentucky, did the narrative start to shift maybe the public is not as progressive as the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren portray on the left (yes, Democrats have their own divides on post-Trump America).

Democrats, who for years, had convinced themselves the party was full of young, woke progressives – who supported banning firearms, opening the border and weakening protections for religious and non-profit institutions – find themselves struggling to explain why a 78 year old white male is leading national polling and a 37 year old, white, moderate Mayor of South Bend has taken the lead in the first in the nation caucus state of Iowa. Meanwhile, Sanders campaign has largely settled in for the long-haul knowing their results in Iowa and New Hampshire won’t be dominating and Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy, after surging, has fallen back down to Earth.

Any Republican looking to lead the GOP post – Trump should take notice and realize betting the farm on one strategy is not a recipe for success. Rather, the candidate who combines the best elements of the GOP’s wings will likely assemble a winning coalition.

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