As the impeachment battle looms over Washington DC, the rest of the country is looking to the future. As 2020 comes ever closer, both the Democrats and Republicans are in the middle of some intense soul-searching to decide which direction to move towards. In the event that Donald Trump is voted out of office, the GOP will be in an even more dire situation of aimlessness than they were in 2015. Since winning the primary, Donald Trump has reformed the GOP into a cult of personality similar to the Caudillos of Latin America. As we’ve seen in the history of Latin America, once your Perón is out of power, it’s hard to maintain that cult of personality. So the question facing Republicans is this: What happens to the rally diehards, the Q-Anon conspirators, the Deep State believers, and the Trump consiglieres once Trump is out of office?
Trump has become more than a president for that quarter-to-third of the country that are his bedrock of support. He’s taken on a significance in people’s lives similar to that of the celebrity he was, and a religious leader, like Pope Francis. His vow to make America Great Again and to Build the Wall have become mantras encompassing far more than a simple slogan. For the Trumpist, Trump is a man selflessly sacrificing his fortune, his reputation, his entire life, to the work of draining the swamp and restoring integrity and godliness to an America that has become as corrupt and hedonistic as Rome before the fall.
For the Trump base, Trump is the last great hope to restore America to the shining beacon on a hill that it was in the days of their ancestors. Only he can bring prosperity and change to a people in desperate need of it, and to fight off the socialist hellscape waiting if the Democrats have their way. More importantly, Trump is the only politician telling them the unvarnished truth about the hive of scum and villainy that makes up the political class of the country. In the narrative of America, Trump is the great hero working to single handedly save the day. It’s why fan art of the president is so superheroic and triumphant. It’s why Trumpists love that “he fights”. It’s why they’re willing to back him to the end no matter what. Many of them truly believe they are on the right side of history in the battle for the soul of America. If you believed that there was a group such as the Deep State, that was filled with Satan-worshipers, pedophiles, and criminals of the worst kind, then there is no other option than to fight for your country and to stand behind Donald Trump. Trump is the promise and hope that fills the hole that crumbling societal institutions used to fill in people’s daily lives. In short, Trump is Washington, Billy Graham, Hugh Hefner, and Superman in one person.
As a result, Trumpists have been indoctrinated into disregarding non-positive coverage of Trump, and have largely self-selected into the Fox News, Breitbart, OANN media bubble. They have their own celebrities (See Diamond and Silk), their own belief systems (see QAnon), and a fundamentally different vision of what American Exceptionalism has always been about and should be compared to the traditional narrative. This is a real, visceral split in the country similar to the split regarding segregation, isolationism, and socialism in the past. It means that there is a fundamental, transformational conversation going on, and the Trumpists are the vanguard for Donald Trump’s vision. These are beliefs that are unified by Trump as a person.
While Trump is the glue holding this coalition together, these beliefs won’t just be going away come 2020 or 2024. Much like the Caudillos of Latin America, there’s a good chance that these populist followers will hold him up as the ideal candidate for decades to come after Trump’s presidency. Donald Trump Jr., Mike Pence, Jim Jordan, and the other Trump supporters aren’t going to be going away as political forces. They will be heirs apparent, just as every Republican worked to be Reagan’s successor following his presidency. Much like Obama Alumni, we should expect to see Trump alumni and disciples making races and building coalitions in State and local elections for years to come. Once you’ve managed to create a power base and fanbase around yourself, it is much easier to continue your political momentum. That means the likes of Kellyanne Conway and Charlie Kirk will most likely stick around long after Trump. There’s also a section that will buy into far right and far left isolationist types, such as your Tulsi Gabbards and Rand Pauls. There’s a group that will believe the Deep State won and want to rage against the machine. And that’s just if Trump wins. If Trump loses, then Trumpism will obtain the pernicious status of a lost cause.
People let go of lost causes only after generations. We still have people in this country who believe in the Ku Klux Klan and call the Civil War the “War of Northern Aggression” after all. Just listen at the leaked Richard Spencer audio from a few days ago to see a living example of these strains of American thought. There’s also the legacy of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Anti-Federalists, the Imperialization era, and more. these are bad causes inexorably linked to the cultural identity of significant portions of the country in some shape or form. Trump, and more importantly, Trumpism as a cultural identity, will exist as a political strain in this country for generations to come. The challenge will be learning how to either accommodate it into the existing political system, or to completely defeat it and smother it out of existence.
The question facing the GOP, and American politics at large, is how to handle what comes next. Will Trumpists be voted out in a wave, in admonishment? Will they continue to be the locus of power in conservative politics even after Trump? If voted out, do we only accept the Trumpist Republicans back into good standing as conservatives once they’ve apologized for their support? Do Never Trumpers even get to make that call, as they largely chose to leave the GOP apparatus during the Trump years? These are the questions we must ask ourselves as conservatives starting now, a year out from the 2020 election. Magaworld isn’t going away. Dealing with the ramifications of this will be one of the great challenges facing the future of conservatism, and the United States as a nation at large.
Christian Thrailkill is a graduate of Southern Methodist University, musician, and columnist. He lives in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @Wolvie616