Donald Trump’s true legacy will be cemented depending on whether or not he runs for president in 2024. He can leave the Republican Party surging or divided.
The GOP lost control of the U.S. Senate and the White House in 2020 due to Trump, though results also showed the party continues to have strong electoral appeal, with surprising success in House elections across the nation. While the former president had successful policies and made inroads with some voter blocs — mainly Hispanic and blue collar — his myriad deficiencies also wasted many. The best way for the party to build on those gains is to leave Trump behind. Interestingly, Trump’s 2020 campaign being more attune to conservatism than four years prior proves conservative policies — hard line on immigration; tough-on-crime; support for national security endeavors; educational reform; and yes, fiscal sanity — does not require dramatic revision. GOP losses of House seats in 2018, Trump’s 2020 defeat, and Senate setbacks in Arizona, Colorado and Georgia, were mainly due to America’s suburbs becoming more diverse and educated. While some of these voters supported Trump in 2016, and many still vote Republican at the congressional level, the 45th president repelled them last fall, and Democrats used the former president to attract voters. In 2020, Joe Biden beat Hillary Clinton’s numbers in suburbia by 5 percentage points. And in battleground Georgia, Biden topped Clinton's numbers by 8 points. Trump’s job approval never rose above 50% in most polls, because he consistently catered solely to his base, rather than swing voters, independents or moderate Republicans. We don’t need Trump’s unrelenting grievances to roar back into national attention and fracture the party. In recent months, he set his ire on those he believed “wronged” him, including Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, former Attorney General Bill Barr, and even his vice president. Trump does not care that these loyal men endured his tumultuous tenure and carried his agenda. Because this is all personal, Trump’s demand for fealty could dangerously split the party more than he already has the last six years. Trump regards any lack of willingness to defend him as unforgivable. In the presidential primary, he would undeniably attack the records of governors and senators who have been very good to him. Even out of office, he's already hurting the GOP's 2022 Senate chances. A less volatile 2024 nominee could strengthen the party and stop its suburban hemorrhaging. A Trump candidacy would instead necessarily augment divisions. The former president also has been a disaster since the November election, costing Republicans both Georgia Senate seats and control of the upper chamber, enabling Democrats to push radical policies. Trump’s aberrant behavior after his loss was egregious but expected. His absurd election lawsuits failed, then he pressured his Justice Department and state parties to “find the fraud” and overturn the results. Trump continues to insist he won, endorsing bogus “vote audits” in Arizona and Georgia. He may get applause from populist talk radio and Fox News/OANN/Newsmax sycophants, plus obsequious websites, and CPAC activists, but the aforementioned mainly seek access and money. Instead of looking backwards, suppressing up-and-coming talent, the party must unite behind an array of successful, younger politicians, not a loser. Luckily, Republicans have a range of likable, diverse candidates — from Govs. Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Kristi Noem to Sens. Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio and Tim Scott, and more. At age 78 by 2024, Trump would also negate any age advantage Republicans hold over the 82-year-old Biden. Even some of his most traditional allies realize time’s up. In interviews with 15 people at the recent Family Leadership Summit in Iowa — all of whom voted for Trump — none said they hoped the former president would run again.