As the 2020 electoral contest in the United States comes to a definite conclusion the two Presidential candidates are on the move: president-elect Joe Biden preparing to take the oath of office on January 20th and Donald Trump advancing unproven claims of “stolen” elections and hinting at the possibility to launch his next presidential campaign. With at least $200 million still in Trump’s war chest, the 2024 possibility should not be ignored.
The final political equilibrium in the Washington D.C. will not be clear until the two January runoff senatorial elections in Georgia. If the Republicans win just one seat then they would have a 51 to 49 majority; however, if the Democrats secure both seats, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would have the tiebreaking vote. The Democrats retained their majority in the House, albeit decreased by nine, and Biden’s 81 million vote victory is a remarkable but a qualified achievement: it is by no means another “blue wave” that swept the country in the 2018 midterm elections or a mandate for the political platform of the radical Left. With a lean majority in the House and conceivably a minority in the Senate, Biden has no alternative to political moderation and economic expansion matching Trump’s successes prior to COVID-19.
Trump lost despite the support of 74 million voters, nine million more than in 2016. The loyal followers of the Republican perspective were not disheartened by his abrasive personality, questionable morals, disdain for science and disrespect for the rule of law. A vote for Trump shows endorsement of conservative political priorities with a hint of xenophobia, anxiety over globalization and fear of the left-wing activism. Trump lost but Republicanism is robust, well established and represents a significant number of voters. Yet, has Trump become an obstacle for the Republican party?
President Trump energized and polarized the entire political spectrum of the country with his advocacy of the time-honored canons of Republicanism heavily coated with populism. Once the party of WASPs and the wealthy, the GOP has evolved into a party of middle-class Americans, with increasing participation of minorities, who share an aversion to Obamacare, resentment against illegal immigration and are in favor of law-and-order, low taxes, reduced international commitments and neo-mercantilism in foreign trade.
This emerging power make-up in Washington presents the Republicans with a dilemma: either continue to endure Trump or discard his unproven assertions of a nation-wide electoral fraud and promptly regroup behind traditional Republican priorities. With his intransigent supporters the President continues to challenge the legitimacy of certified election results and insist that the judgement delivered at the hands of American voters should be swapped for judicial rulings. Without a single exception Trump’s allegation have been rejected by courts in over thirty states, his Attorney General William Barr and in an unusually perfunctory manner by the Supreme Court of the United States. To keep up the “Stop the Steal” campaign, Trump’s supporters may soon step outside the law.
Trump’s idea of a nation-wide election fraud has no precedent in history of the Republic and signals that Trump’s egocentric drive for power defies respect for the entire legal structure of the country. After dividing the nation, Trump proceeds to damage the Republican Party and belittle the democratic nucleus of the country with his “I shall return” pretension. It is helpful to remember that the President is the only public official in the United States elected by the entire nation.
Four years ago, Trump energized the Republican Party and orchestrated victory in the electoral college after losing the popular vote. He galvanized Republicanism around the tenets of conservative populism. As a President, however, he squandered these assets with his erratic and offensive conduct and alienated several sympathetic to GOP national constituencies. He delivered economic expansion, but his leadership flunked the test on good governance and failed to show compassion at the time of a profound national crisis.
By looking beyond Trump the Republican Party would avoid falling into the pitfall of turning into a cult and instead act as a reasonable political alternative to the radical Left. The rise of the progressive crusade has given the Republicans a well-timed nemesis on par with the threat of communism during the decades of the Cold War. The prospect of progressivism, frequently depicted as a masked socialism, provides an effective political backdrop to broaden the conservative appeal beyond the rank-and-file followers. To stage a political comeback, however, the Party must restore civility at the top and bring forward exemplary leaders akin to Dwight Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan.
Trump’s problems are already Biden’s problems: most notably the Coronavirus pandemic and the economy. After the first one hundred days of Biden’s administration the value of Trump as a whipping boy is likely to decrease even if the former president continues to broadcast his confrontational tweets. President Biden will be expected to make good on the myriad of costly and overreaching pledges he made during the electoral campaign and contain the radical leaning of the Sanders-AOC faithful, without tampering with the traditional bread-and-butter concerns of moderates. This could be an insurmountable undertaking, but the specter of more Trumpism down the road would prop up Biden’s anti-Trump coalition and drive it to the left. The GOP sans Trump gives the moderate Democrats a chance to find common grounds with the Republican center, and for the GOP it offers the opportunity to attract constituencies lost by Trump in 2020.
A return to paralyzing “dead on arrival” obstructionism prevalent during the Obama’s presidency is not a promising tactic to broadening of the GOP’s social appeal. The eventual choice of strategy is dependent on the outcome of Georgia’s runoff elections; however, by pursuing a cherry-picked bipartisanship, the GOP would sway Biden’s ambitions to the center in the process of modernizing national infrastructure, revising environmental regulations, immigration law, policing and other critically important national priorities. Trumpism brings the Democrats together; without Trump, moderate politicians in both parties have a chance to expose progressives as a destabilizing force in Washington. The relative success of the Democratic-Republican joint effort is already evident in the developing bipartisan consensus on the national COVID-19 relief packages. At the same time, symptoms of political squabbles within the Democratic Party are coming to the surface as the left wing has become disgruntled over the allegedly inadequate presence of progressives in Biden’s administration.
Foreign and security policies offer a promising ground for the post-Trump departure from an ineffective and often counterproductive “America First” unilateralism. After all, one of the key pillars supporting the superpower status of the United States is the global alliance system designed to contain imperial ambitions of China and Russia.
There is a national consensus for rebalancing US-China trade relations, as the growing evidence affirms that Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports have done more harm to American consumers than to China. Trump has drawn the much-needed attention to the burden-sharing disparities within NATO, with the United States contributing over 70 percent to the annual operational expenses of the Alliance. It is nevertheless clear and convincingly articulated by the Pentagon that the abrupt and unilateral reductions of American forces in Europe, Afghanistan and Iraq jeopardize global stability. These impulsive steps threaten to unhinge the international order by fostering doubts about the value of American security guarantees and most urgently the credibility of the American commitment to the sovereignty of Taiwan. Washington’s return to a measured liberal internationalism is a well-established common denominator for bipartisanship and a precondition for managing relations with China.
In short, the fate of the nation rests not only in the hands of Biden, but also in the collective prudence of the GOP; will it degenerate into being the party of one man or will it return to being the conservative alternative for all?
Edited by James P. Butler; Photo credit: Rosemary Ketchum, pexels