Mercifully, Donald Trump is headed out the door. His destructive, petulant nature drove the nation to one of its lowest lows in modern history. We’ve talked a lot about the consequences of Trump’s damage to the nation looking forward, but Trump’s megalomaniacal overthrow of the Republican party—turning a party of once vaguely principled corporatists into a rabid pack of hangers-on—has some interesting ships on its horizon as well.
Since 1939, former presidents have helped establish presidential libraries that work to curate artifacts of his presidency, as well as promote his reputation and legacy more broadly. Now, there have already been plenty of jokes and speculation about Trump’s presidential library: the whole thing being packed with coloring books, the library being something more akin to a theme park or a Trump propaganda machine, for example. But what we can be sure of is that no matter what Trump’s “library” does, it’s going to hurt the Republican party.
Why is this so certain? Simple. Trump’s unique stranglehold on the GOP and his unique ability to attract people to the polls will continue well after his presidency ends, and this is going to suck the oxygen out of the room for the GOP. Basically, like in all good westerns, Trump might as well tell the GOP: “This town isn’t big enough for the two of us.”
Republicans are far more fragmented than people tend to realize. The fact that Trump won’t be on the ballot anymore is going to hurt Republicans at all levels of government on subsequent ballots. Unless Trump really throws his weight (metaphorically, thank God) into future elections, you can bet that Republican turnout will suffer as compared to when Trump was on the ballot.
If Trump’s “library” really does end up being the kind of Trumpian politburo that I think it will, Trump will both profit from his followers and distract them from the former establishment Republicans. At least as a thought experiment, this leads Republicans in office to do one of two things: (1) turn Trumpian and let Trump continue to dictate their policies from beyond the presidential grave, further alienating many independents and most moderates and thus shrinking the potential constituency; or (2) ignore Trump and face losing support from Trump’s base voters who feel like anybody who isn’t Trumpian is a sellout.
We’re already seeing the GOP struggling to get voters to buy into a runoff election in which Trump is absent from the ballot and both Republican candidates are pretty Trumpy. Not a good sign for Republicans moving forward.
Trump is not just a cancer on America—he’s a cancer on the political party that gave him the space to metastasize. And now we’re seeing that party wither.