While the above headline is intentionally misleading in light of this blogger’s general disdain for the comportment of President Donald J. Trump and the actions currently being taken on his behalf after a clear electoral loss in November, today’s article constitutes an effort to laud soon-to-be Mr. Trump for what he did to benefit the Grand Old Party over the last four years.
1. Judges, judges, and more judges. In just four years, Donald Trump arguably transformed the federal judiciary more than any President in decades. His election and subsequent appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch “saved” the 5-4 conservative majority on the Court. His steadfast support for Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial nomination maintained the 5-4 balance while shifting the Court slightly to the ideological right. And his pick of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the deceased Ruth Bader Ginsburg produced a dramatic rightward swerve to a 6-3 conservative-leaning majority on this panel. Looking at the federal circuit courts of appeal one step below the Supreme Court, Donald Trump has appointed an equivalent number of intermediate appellate judges as Barack Obama managed in double the time. Moreover, the “leave no seat behind” express is currently witnessing a Republican Senate using even the lame duck Congressional session to fill federal judgeships of all types (circuit courts of appeal, district courts, military courts, and specialty courts), and will conclude with conservative appointments to nearly all seats for which Trump nominee confirmation is achievable. While an astute observer may properly credit a Mitch McConnell-led Senate and the conservative judicial machine powered by the Federalist Society with being the real impetuses behind the judicial success of President Trump, none of it happens without his 2016 win.
2. The tax burden declines. For better or worse, the Republican Party’s core issue for the past 40 years has been the reduction of federal taxes. With Donald Trump’s Presidency, another victory in this policy era was achieved via the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that saw a reduction in both corporate and individual taxation rates. Delving more deeply into that bill, the corporate tax burden that was reduced significantly by the Trump tax bill (and constituted the majority of the total tax relief provided in the legislation) was badly needed to ensure continued American preeminence in global marketplace. Interestingly, this blogger believes that corporate tax reduction would have likely been passed during a Hillary Clinton Presidency. However, the size and scope of the corporate cuts would have been lesser, and the individual cuts achieved by the Trump bill were likely far more substantial than anything which would have ever been offered by Democrats.
3. A foundation for clear immigration policy. Prior to Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP in early 2016, Republican policy on immigration was all over the map. Some business-oriented Republicans preferred a very liberal policy on borders; other immigration hawks wanted a dramatic cessation of both legal and illegal immigration. Under Trump, the border policy was cleanly decided, with the hawks largely carrying the day. Republicans now stand to aggressively oppose illegal entry into the United States and to enact and enforce laws supporting this preference. While less clarity has been achieved regarding legal immigration into the United States, it appears likely for Republicans to coalesce around a legal immigration system premised upon more on merit than family ties and/or immigration lotteries. Ultimately, increasing clarity on GOP immigration policy is likely to reduce the influence of this issue on future Republican Presidential primaries.
4. The decline of the “country club GOP.” From this blogger’s viewpoint, Donald Trump’s most important and helpful contribution to the future of the GOP was to smash the image of the Republican Party as a redoubt for the nation’s upper crust. There is a massive irony in the fact that the man who destroyed the (generally unfair) perception of Republicans as a cabal of country club elites himself owns a myriad of exclusive country clubs and golf resorts. Setting the naked irony generated by this reality aside, the embrace of the vulgar and unseemly Trump by the party of the right makes it quite difficult to tag Republicans as “above the fray elitists” who don’t care about much other than ensuring their taxes remain low (and yes, as discussed above, Republicans still care a lot about taxes). For better or worse, a Trumpian GOP stands unafraid to savage the media, to wage total war on cultural issues, and to stand as firmly against Democrats as Republicans believe Democrats stand against them.
5. A broader, more inclusive GOP. While Donald Trump indisputably lost the 2020 election, his popular vote total increase by an impressive 11M from 2016. Trump targeted and turned out a much more economically diverse coalition than past Republicans, and established that the GOP message (at least one delivered by Trump) could motivate blue collar/working class voters to coalesce behind the Republican banner.* Not only did Trump inspire working class white voters, often considered his personal base, he made real and significant gains among similarly positioned Hispanics (and even small gains among younger male African Americans). It appears almost axiomatic that a major part of Trump’s ability to gain among a more economically diverse coalition resulted in large part via casting himself as the antithesis to country club Republicanism.
6. The conservative/populist coalition. The real gains generated under Donald J. Trump among less upscale voters brings the reader to the final point of this piece. The conservative coalition – a longstanding but occasionally uneasy alliance between the business and socially conservative wings of the GOP – has remained viable in recent decades, but has genuinely struggled to consistently gain a 50% plus one majority across the electorate. By adding those attracted to the Trumpian version of populism (a combination of working class Northern whites, culturally and religiously conservative Hispanics, and young African American men underwhelmed by the current ideological offerings of the left) to the more typical Republican alliance, Trump has opened the gates for a conservative/populist majority in the 2020s. However, despite his rumored bleating about a 2024 political reincarnation, it remains clear that the personal flaws of Trump – who has not cleared 47% of the vote in either 2016 or 2020, largely because of his own offensiveness to not insubstantial segments of the party’s business wing – render him completely inappropriate for the drive to produce a real GOP majority in coming US Presidential and Congressional races. Should Trump stand aside, expect the next generation of Republican leaders to flourish at the polls and to make the 2020s a decade of Republican dominance at most levels of American federal and state governance.
*In light of the similar drift of working class voters in Great Britain to the right of center Tories, it certainly appears that this change should not be solely attributed to Donald Trump, and is replicable for future Republican candidates.