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Will the post-Trump GOP party be coming anytime soon?

Will the post-Trump GOP party be coming anytime soon?
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In the weeks following the Capitol riot, it felt like we were witnessing the long-awaited arrival of a post-Trump Republican Party. Having been "deplatformed" and having been impeached for a second time, President TrumpDonald TrumpUS gives examples of possible sanctions relief to Iran GOP lawmaker demands review over FBI saying baseball shooting was 'suicide by cop' House passes bill aimed at stopping future Trump travel ban MORE’s political power and poll standing within the Republican Party was at a low ebb.

Now, it looks like a post-Trump party won’t be coming anytime soon — or at least a Senate conviction that would bar Trump from office won’t be the catalyst for it. The passage of time has allowed the impeachment question to harden along existing pro- and anti-Trump lines. That’s a losing debate for the GOP’s Trump skeptics, who command no more than one-fifth of the party, even after Jan. 6.

If the fight for the Republican Party’s future continues to unfold along these same predictable lines, we can expect to see the GOP be Trump’s party for a long time to come. The smarter move for Trump skeptics — and Trump supporters tired of his antics and open to changing the channel — is to shift the debate entirely. 

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American politics is about personality and Trump’s continued dominance within his party is no surprise. From the White House, Trump gave the Republican base the validation and the “fight” it longed for. The most likely way for a post-Trump party to emerge is not for the party to formally repudiate him, which won’t happen, but for another compelling personality to take his place — one whose views also rally Republicans. The choice for the party is not whether to be pro- or anti-Trump, but whether to be about Trump — or not about Trump. 

As unlikely as it seems, political entrepreneurs willing to disrupt their party’s status quo often win. No one exemplified this approach better than Trump himself, who seized control of the GOP taking positions anathema to its Ronald Reagan-era consensus. Reagan himself lifted the party out of its post-Watergate mire by disrupting the party’s moderation from Presidents Eisenhower to Ford. When it comes to how parties evolve, disruption is the rule, not the exception. 

Doing this will take new Republican leaders who are willing to step out of Trump’s shadow and who will create a new and compelling conservative brand that Republicans can gravitate towards instead. Next-generation Republicans like Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottNew signs of progress emerge on police reform White House to give Congress space on police reform The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After historic verdict, Chauvin led away in handcuffs MORE (R-S.C.) and Reps. Dan CrenshawDaniel CrenshawGOP Rep. Crenshaw to take leave due to eye surgery Koch network urges lawmakers to back 'personal option' health plan A nuclear frontier MORE (R-Texas), Nancy MaceNancy MaceRepublicans race for distance from 'America First Caucus' Eric Bolling rules out congressional bid Omar: Capitol security incident would be more deadly if AR-15 involved MORE (R-S.C) and Peter MeijerPeter MeijerRepublicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost GOP lawmaker 'encouraged' by Biden's Afghanistan strategy University of Michigan regent, who chairs state GOP, censured over 'witches' comment MORE (R-Mich.) span the gamut in their relative support for Trump, but all are political entrepreneurs building their own brands — not ones derivative of Trump’s. 

The election certification fight shows the perils of trying to be like Trump without also embodying the qualities Republican voters like about him. A strong majority of Republican voters may stand with Trump personally, but in our polling they were more lukewarm about members of Congress who voted against certifying the election results, with just 35 percent saying they’d be more likely to vote for such a candidate, to 22 percent saying they’d be more likely to vote against them. “Trumpism without Trump” will never be as compelling as the original. 

Still, much of Trump’s reinvention of the Republican Party will be long-lasting. Trumpism was a necessary corrective to a party too controlled by donor class interests, articulating a working class economic message that was decisive in the Midwest. Just months ago, this approach came very close to winning a second term few thought possible. Trump’s time in power will be forever stained by the events of Jan. 6, but new GOP leaders will study his changes to the electoral map and build upon them. 

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One hopeful sign? The Republican rank-and-file don’t think that Trump alone is the one who can get them where they want to go. When we at Echelon Insights, of which I am a co-founder and pollster, surveyed Republicans after the election about what kind of Republican leader they wanted in the future, just 16 percent wanted a return to establishment leaders like George W. Bush or Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySenate panel greenlights sweeping China policy bill The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Tensions rise as U.S. waits for Derek Chauvin verdict Mark Halperin hired by bipartisan policy group No Labels MORE, compared to 39 percent who wanted Trump himself as leader of the party. But there was a key group in the middle: 33 percent who wanted a leader with Trump’s policies, but with a more disciplined personal style. The number of Republicans open to some kind of new leadership has only grown since.

Republicans can look back on the words of one of their heroes for inspiration on what comes next. In his first months as president, Reagan reformulated the challenge of the Cold War, by saying “The West will not contain communism, it will transcend communism.” As president, Reagan led the country in doing just that. Transformative leaders don’t just oppose or react. They don’t define themselves exclusively in terms of what came before. They transcend. That’s the challenge for new Republican leaders: not to defeat Trumpism, but to transcend it.

Out of office, Trump’s standing is diminished, but Republican officials are still fixated by how to position themselves in relation to him. Whether they support or oppose him, or are somewhere in between, their worldview is still all about Trump. He is the sun around which all other Republicans orbit. 

Moving forward will require Republicans to unshackle themselves from this reactive mindset. A strategy that attempts to recreate Trumpism or bases itself entirely on repudiating it is doomed to fail. Neither approach is anything new or interesting to voters. A Biden administration creates an opportunity for a political reset, but only if the GOP’s political entrepreneurs are bold enough to seize it. 

Patrick Ruffini is a Republican pollster and co-founder of Echelon Insights. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickRuffini.