Can Former President Trump Really Save The GOP?
Even if all goes according to plan, then the only way that Trump can convince the MAGA members to remain loyal to the GOP is to focus almost exclusively on their hatred for the Democrats since he can no longer appeal to them from his earlier anti-establishment angle after allying with the RINOs.
Former US President Donald J. Trump met with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy last Thursday at Mar-a-Lago to discuss plans for their party to retake Congress during the 2022 midterm elections. On the surface, that doesn’t seem too difficult to pull off considering that the Senate is de facto split with Vice President Harris as the tiebreaker and the Republicans only need to flip seven seats to win back the House. There’s also the trend of the incumbent party performing worse during the midterms, so it certainly seems like the Republicans should at least stand a fighting chance. They’d only have to further exploit the country’s existing political divisions in order to galvanize their base and attract on-the-fence voters dissatisfied with the Democrats.
That’s not so easy to do, however, since the Republicans are currently divided between establishment figures like McCarthy and comparatively anti-establishment ones like Trump. The former president leads the party’s “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) movement which was responsible for the GOP’s record-high turnout during last year’s elections. Nevertheless, MAGA is nowadays marred by some of its members participating in the storming of the US Capitol and there’s noticeable dissent within this movement about how the Republicans treated Trump in its aftermath. Many MAGA members detest the establishment Republicans who they refer to “Republicans In Name Only” (RINOs) to imply that they’re just a more conservative version of the Democrats.
There’s been serious talk about them breaking off from the GOP to form a third party tentatively called the “Patriot Party”, which earlier reports suggested that Trump was thinking about leading before his representatives clarified that he has nothing to do with it. His meeting with McCarthy put those rumors to rest since Trump is solidly standing behind the GOP, but this might deeply disappoint the MAGA members. From their perspective, their beloved political hero is once again partnering with the same RINOs who were responsible for sabotaging his agenda from 2016-2018 when the Republicans controlled both chambers of congress and then largely turned on him after the storming of the US Capitol.
Truth be told, Trump might just be playing a political game at the moment by pretending that he backs the GOP in order for their representatives not to vote for his impeachment lest they risk isolating even more of their already dissatisfied MAGA base. An implied quid pro quo might therefore be in place whereby Trump agreed to disown reports about his third party plans and publicly pledge loyalty to the GOP in exchange for them voting against his impeachment during his upcoming Senate trial. If the latter goes against this speculative arrangement, then Trump might pursue the so-called “Samson option” of establishing the “Patriot Party” in order to take the Republicans down with him as his final act of revenge against the RINOs.
Even if all goes according to plan, then the only way that Trump can convince the MAGA members to remain loyal to the GOP is to focus almost exclusively on their hatred for the Democrats since he can no longer appeal to them from his earlier anti-establishment angle after allying with the RINOs. The former president might also try to get them to realize that it takes tremendous money, influence, and organizational expertise to establish, manage, and successfully run a third party, thus scaring them into voting for the GOP since no other realistic option exists for possibly unseating the Democrats in 2022 and especially 2024. What can’t be known at this point in time, however, is whether the MAGA members will listen.
Trump might come to be seen by them as a “false prophet who “sold out” to the RINOs in exchange for avoiding impeachment at the Senate. Their disappointment with what some might provocatively regard as his “betrayal” might even be stronger than their hatred for the Democrats, which could keep them away from the GOP. By continuing to play by the Republicans’ rules, Trump might therefore lose the support of his comparatively anti-establishment base, which might either try to found the “Patriot Party” on their own, vote for other non-establishment candidates if that fails, or just sit the next elections out, especially if they’re still concerned about fraud.
That last point is especially significant since Trump still hasn’t reversed his scandalous claim that he lost re-election due to systemic electoral and voter fraud even though the courts threw out all of his cases. MAGA members might therefore feel like there’s no reason for them to continue participating in the political process if they remain convinced that the system is hopelessly rigged against them. Without their votes, Trump can’t save the GOP, but its existential crisis is partly of his own making so he must take responsibility for what happens. If the Republicans don’t win back Congress in 2022, then they might not have the momentum to seriously challenge the presidency in 2024, which could doom them to a cycle of defeat and ultimately dissolution.