Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Donald Trump Has Completely Taken over the GOP

Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president in 2024 last November. First, he must win the Republican primary. He faces a potentially tough primary challenger in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Nevertheless, Trump will likely win. None of the likely challengers deviates that much from ‘Trumpism’ – Trump’s aggressive culture war posturing and combative styling.

So even if Trump wins, the outcome will not be that different. And if a Trump-ish presidency is the only possible GOP outcome, then why settle for a bland copy of Trump when you can vote for the real thing?

Trumpism Triumphant

The most striking element of Trump’s rise and endurance as leader of the GOP is his thoroughgoing triumph over all other elements in the Republican party.

Donald Trump was a businessman with a history of shady relationships and tabloid magazine scandals. He had bounced around politically – supporting whomever seemed to offer his New York City business interests. He had no clear ideology; indeed it is still hard today to pin down Trump’s ideological convictions beyond a generalized, if aggressive, nationalism.

He was a GOP neophyte when he won its primary in 2016.

Yet Trump pushed aside various factions inside the GOP in fairly short order. The neoconservatives – the hawkish foreign policy set around officials like John Bolton or pundits like William Kristol – were effectively pushed out of the party altogether, despite their extraordinary sway in the previous GOP administration.

Similarly, free trade – once a core commitment of the GOP – has disappeared almost entirely from GOP thinking under Trump, replaced by ‘America First’ protectionism. At home, Trump made no effort to balance the budget during his presidency, and he comfortably appointed an openly gay, married man to his cabinet.

The previous GOP consensus – built across the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George Bush (41), and George Bush (43) – was derided as ‘zombie Reaganism.’ A few anti-Trump Republicans went into exile on social media and op-ed pages, while most GOP officials fell in with the new dispensation.

Donald Trump Has Drama

Donald Trump has therefore won – in a thematic, stylistic way – even before the 2024 presidential race begins.

But this is quite astonishing. Trump has no history in the GOP beyond 2015. His personal behavior collides directly with the commitments of evangelicals, a core GOP constituency. And he has not managed to replicate his success of 2016. In 2018, the GOP lost the House of Representatives; in 2020, it lost the presidency; in 2021, it lost the Senate; and in 2022, the much-hyped ‘red wave,’ or even red tsunami, fell fall short.

If Trump cannot win, then ultimately he will face pressure to step aside. Trump can activate the Republican base and drive a high GOP turnout. But he also motivates counter-voting. Democrats intensely dislike him, and Trump’s personal behavior – his endless torrent of harsh or inane commentary – alienates the few swing voters the GOP needs to win a majority.

A Trump-stamped GOP can win 45-48% of the national vote, and that, given the curious mechanics of the Electoral College, creates a unique pathway to presidential victory. But Trump is not a proven majority-builder, and this has bedeviled him since 2015.

They’re All Trumpists Now

Still, the rest of his potential primary challengers are Trumpists too.

Their general hope seems to be to retain Trump’s aggressiveness, nationalism, and bravado, while jettisoning his many personal peccadilloes. That is, to be a disciplined, focused trump-ish candidate who can motivate the base voters with Trump’s red-meat while still capturing enough swing voters, through basic competence and self-control, to build a majority.

DeSantis is the likely vehicle for this. He has the background, self-control, and bureaucratic skill which the GOP establishment desperately wants in a presidential candidate. But he has worked hard to appeal to the Trumpist GOP primary voter. He has even practiced Trump’s hand motions to channel the party’s dominant figure. 

This may work. Trump is at his weakest ever. But until it happens, we should be hugely skeptical. The GOP base loves Trump. They love his belligerence, his willingness to say anything, his gleeful political incorrectness that borders on nihilism. He has led the party’s voters to his own concerns and paranoias. It is not clear that a fairly bland GOP bureaucrat like DeSantis has what it takes to break the spell, no matter how desperately GOP elites are searching for a Trump slayer.

Trump’s charisma is what binds him to the base, and DeSantis sorely lacks that. But most importantly, if DeSantis is just a Trump clone – only without the fun, without the garish theatrics, the burn-it-all-down aggression – then why vote for him instead of the real thing?

DeSantis is offering no real choice, because he is parroting Trump, only with less excitement and zeal. If your choice is between Trump and Trump-lite, is it realistic to believe that a trump-ized electorate will not just take the real thing, as it has for years now?

MORE: Could Donald Trump Be Disqualified from Becoming President Again?

MORE: Could Donald Trump Quit the GOP?

Expert Biography: Dr. Robert E. Kelly ( is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University and 19FortyFive Contributing Editor.

Written By

Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; website) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is now a 1945 Contributing Editor as well.