In 2016, a month before the presidential election, several executives of the Republican Party (Grand Old Party, GOP) pleaded for the replacement of their candidate, Donald Trump, after the broadcast of a 2005 video in which the latter made remarks obscene. The businessman, who had already won the GOP nomination to the dismay of many of his elected officials, then looked like a foil. But, the person concerned ended up accessing the White House and he has not, since, ceased to extol the birth of a ” movement “ of which he is the embodiment.
Four years later, the GOP seems to be deeply marked by its influence. Both its extremism and its excesses no longer seem to provoke the slightest reaction. François Vergniolle by Chantal is professor of American civilization at the University of Paris and author of the book The Impossible Imperial Presidency (2016, CNRS Editions).
He answered your questions on Thursday, November 19.
Pascale: How to explain the shift of the Republican Party from the rejection of Donald Trump to his dubbing, without any hindsight, four years later?
First of all, through a pure electoral balance of power. GOP elected officials fear that the Trumpist electoral base will disavow them during the primaries. Then, out of short-term interest: Republicans in Congress have used Trump to achieve their political goals – appointing conservative judges and lowering taxes.
Finally, and above all from midterms (the 2018 midterm elections), a growing number of elected officials have ideologically moved closer to the Trump administration. But it is difficult to know what is the part of prudence and that of real ideological attachment.
Karim: Can we say that Trump has enslaved the Republican Party and that he is “feared” there?
It is very largely a balance of power that Donald Trump has created with the elected Republicans. These “Fear” its influence with the voters, and more particularly at the time of the primaries, these local elections which are used to designate the candidates. It is one of the most interesting developments in American political life, the way in which these primaries have become the site of electoral competition, in a context where the constituencies – even certain states – are homogeneous in their partisan affiliation.
Ben: Could Trump have emerged in the Republican landscape before the 2000s?
We must distinguish between man and what he represents. Man is naturally the result of a conjuncture: the right person in the right place at the right time. What he represents – popular voters victims of downgrading, a frightened white community, evangelicals, but also a more traditional Republican electorate – was present long before 2016. Such a figure could have emerged much earlier.
Donald Trump handled the end of the “Reagan revolution” 1980s, when the GOP simply repeats forty-year-old ideas. The Tea Party was also an example of this exhaustion of Reaganism. If its first demonstrations were on questions of fiscal conservatism, a “Cultural conservatism” quickly took over.
Sylvie: they say that the Democratic Party is very divided between the supporters of the left wing and those of a more centrist way. But what about within the Republican Party?
The Republican Party is also in the grip of many tensions. Evidenced by the Tea Party in 2010. Its members are no longer a major force in the GOP now, but other cleavages have emerged. Trump’s opponents, like the Lincoln Project, have been very active during the campaign.
At the local level, many governors have also chosen to keep their distance from the Trump administration. In Congress, several senators have moved away, such as Ben Sasse, elected from Nebraska. It should not be imagined that the GOP is a unified whole. Its fractures are less visible than those of the Democratic Party, but they are gaping.
Alex: Once Joe Biden is invested, would Donald Trump have the possibility of splitting the Republican Party in order to create a new party with his supporters?
A party split is not so easily decided. But there is a risk. After that, we must not lose sight of the fact that “Third party”, as they say in the United States, is generally doomed to failure. The only reason that would push to avoid a split: electoral caution.
John J: What is Trump’s legacy in the GOP? Will its footprint have an impact until 2024?
The «Trumpisme» is here to stay for the long term. The election results show it clearly. Donald Trump has increased his coalition, not only in number, but also in diversity since Hispanics seem, in some states (such as Florida or Texas), to have been sensitive to his campaign.
This means that he has a real capacity for mobilization which will undoubtedly encourage the vast majority of elected Republican officials to be cautious. How far can it go?
Pupuli: What are the chances that Donald Trump will retain control over Republicans and be a candidate again in 2024?
It is quite possible that Donald Trump will be a candidate again in 2024, without necessarily having complete control of the Republican Party. After all, his 2016 campaign was already that of a « outsider » who has not stopped criticizing the entire establishment. It is a formula that can work again especially since I do not see any immediate relief in the party. Where is the alternative leader who could rally the GOP and counter Trump?
Fifdule: How is this absence of a credible alternative leader explained?
If there are already a certain number of people who are taking a position, Donald Trump has made a clean sweep inside the party. Usually, the vice-president is in a position to take over (or can qualify for it). But in the case of Mike Pence, that won’t happen because he represents the Republican Party in so many ways. ” the past “. However, it seems unlikely to me that the party will return to what it was before Trump arrived.
Daniel B .: Trump attracts a large part of the disadvantaged white population. How to explain that the social measures of the Democratic Party do not have more impact on this electorate?
It is one of the paradoxes of American political life: to see underprivileged voters vote against their socio-economic interests. In 2004, journalist Thomas Frank published a book titled What’s The Matter with Kansas ? to try to explain this phenomenon. His hypothesis was to say that the less fortunate voters were also those who had traditional values, hence their receptiveness to Republican arguments.
The Republican Party has built its image around the idea of Americanism. He captured this patriotic image. There is also currently a debate within the GOP to know if it should not develop its image. “Popular” and its attachment to the most modest, sensitive to the rhetoric of ” American dream “. A senator like Marco Rubio (Florida) is, for example, very sensitive to this discourse and willingly puts it forward.
Dosoe: Are you seeing a shift to the right of the American political spectrum?
The shift to the right – even the extreme right – has been the essential characteristic of the American political debate for a long time. But there is also a rise in power of left figures who also contribute to polarizing the debate. What the Americans have lost, at least in terms of their political personnel, is a center. All of American political history since the 1960s is precisely that of his disappearance.
Adri: What about Republicans who openly supported Democrats in this election? Does this bode well for a cross-partisan government?
We can indeed consider that the Biden administration opens up to personalities from the Republican Party, like the Obama administration. But these one-off rallies won’t change much in the upcoming showdown with Republicans in Congress. And, of course, these personalities will never be able to return to the GOP again: they will be taxed (they already are, for that matter) of « rinos » (Republicans In Name Only).
Anne-Claire: How does the Republican Party analyze the fact of having won the popular vote only once since 1988?
This point is decisive. At the end of the 2012 election, the party published an analysis of the defeat and, in its conclusions, this text called for a renewal of training by extending it in particular to minority voters. But what we have seen since is that the Republicans have moved in a completely different direction, by manipulating the electoral rules to their advantage without committing to the renewal displayed in 2013.
Republicans favor a short-term tactic – which after all allowed them to win an election – but this tactic comes at a cost: their own credibility as well as the legitimacy, in the long term, of certain institutions. Especially in the Senate and the Supreme Court.
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