Opinion | If Trump Loses the Election, What Happens to Trumpism?


This is a preference for people who are “tough, aggressive, willful. Those do not tend to be the characteristics of conservative thinking (nor of liberal thinking).” But, Hetherington added,

People who score high in these characteristics prefer children who are tough, aggressive, and forceful rather than kids who are kind and compromising and such. They appear to be Trump’s most resolute supporters. But here is the kicker. The interesting part is that these specific child rearing preferences (toughness, aggressiveness, etc.) are completely uncorrelated with other dimensions of conservatism, such as preferring traditions and traditional authority.

Since Hetherington and his co-researchers have

never measured this before, we don’t know whether these people used to be Republicans or Democrats or whether they were just on the outside of politics. But we know that they are Trump supporters now, and they are the people who actually favor things like the child separation policy at the southern border.

These voters, according to Hetherington,

are a force in Republican politics through Donald Trump. I don’t think they are going to go away even if Trump loses. They are going to be a nightmare for Republican politicians for years to come.

Even with full control of the White House and Congress, Democrats will face an uphill struggle maintaining popular support, Yphtach Lelkes, a professor of communication and political science at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote me:

The one truism of public opinion is that it acts thermostatically. When the government becomes more left-wing, public opinion shifts to the right (and vice versa). This is true both in aggregate, and within parties as well.

Based on this logic, Lelkes continued, “if Biden wins, the public will shift to the right. This also means that the median Democrat will also be more right than if Trump wins.” The shift would not, however, threaten the intraparty dominance of the Democratic establishment. “The hard core left,” Lelkes wrote, “will be in a weaker position.”

In the alternative setting — Trump wins and continues to push a right-wing agenda — “the public will continue on their leftward shift (which we’ve clearly seen on social issues, ACA attitudes, etc.),” Lelkes wrote. In that case, the Democratic establishment — the moderate left — “will then be in a weaker position.”

There are multiple variations on the theme that a Trump victory would severely damage the Democratic center.

Sean Westwood, a political scientist at Dartmouth, argued “the gut instinct of the Sanders-Warren constituency in the case of a Trump victory would be to try to move the party leftward,” but the implications would require far more serious remedies, Westwood wrote:

If the Democrats cannot win an election against a hated president, with a hugely mobilized base and when they have a large faction of Republican elites supporting their ticket, they should have profound worries about the future of the party.

“If a loss occurs,” Westwood continued,

blaming the system and moving to the left would still be ill advised — Democrats need to figure out how to win in states that have traditionally gone Republican. For the Democrats, more extremism would likely lead to more losses in the future.

To support his argument against the party moving left, Westwood cited a 2015 article, “What Happens When Extremists Win Primaries?” by Andrew Hall, a Stanford political scientist, who found that when a party nominates an extremist candidate,

the party’s general-election vote share decreases on average by approximately 9—13 percentage points, and the probability that the party wins the seat decreases by 35—54 percentage points.

On a different tack, Brandice Canes-Wrone, a professor of public and international affairs at Princeton, shares the view that the Trump insurgency will remain a powerful force within the party — win or lose.

“Even with a decisive loss, the insurgent wing isn’t fading away,” she said:

If Trump is alive and well, it’s hard to imagine him maintaining a low profile, and, even without Trump, there are likely G.O.P. presidential candidates popular with this wing of the party.

The challenge facing the Republican establishment, if it seeks to regain strength, according to Canes-Wrone, “will be to address the policy and emotional concerns of the insurgent wing without devolving into populism. Whether that will be achieved remains uncertain.”

Daniel Schlozman, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins, agreed that the Trump wing of the party will not disappear if Trump is defeated:

Whatever happens to Donald Trump himself, or to his family, Trumpism — that is, the American manifestation of global right-populism — is not going away, nor is what Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson call plutocratic populism, namely the fusion of resentment and classic conservatism.

Schlozman warned that if Trumpism

succeeds in finding new recruits among members of historically Democratic blocs, e.g. anti-immigrant Blacks, it may succeed. The only way to imagine a more responsible Republican Party is for it to lose badly and repeatedly. Given the realities of evenly matched parties and Republican advantages in the Senate and the courts, that is not a likely prospect.

Schlozman, in fact, has his doubts about the long-term viability of the Democratic Party.

In “The Politics of Listlessness: Polarization, Neoliberalism, and the Democratic Party Since 1980,” written with Sam Rosenfeld, a political scientist at Colgate, Schlozman describes a contemporary Democratic Party that is still suffering from decades of policymaking lethargy that extended from the 1970s into the present.


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