There are many in the GOP who, while silent, want to see Donald Trump not only fail in his quest to get the 2024 nomination but see him leave U.S. politics altogether. How to do that?
Simple: find someone in the GOP that can embrace his policies and not act so crazy:
How much a little over a decade can make in not only U.S. politics but GOP politics for sure.
And yes, we all remember, it was Romney and Ryan that got thumbed pretty hard.
At the time, my colleagues and friends in the Romney campaign – I was natural at the time as I was running The Diplomat – felt confident they could beat the Democrats.
They felt they were offering a better vision for the country in terms of creating a better economy, a more robust national security strategy, and an overall better concept of where to take the nation.
As one top Romney aid who worked at the most senior levels helping try to win in 2012 told me recently, “we thought the nation wanted an updated, modernized version of what Ronald Reagan was selling back in 1980 and 1984. Wow, we were so wrong, and we let our own smugness get to our heads. While we got the Russia threat right, the rest we got all wrong.”
I hate to say it, but reflecting back on it now, he was so right.
The truth is the GOP of Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan is dead.
Sure, I have nostalgia for that GOP of 2012 – I miss it, I do – but that is not the policy prescription modern GOP voters are looking for now.
Why Donald Trump Rules the GOP
The GOP must finally come to grips with the fact that, yes, Donald Trump has taken over and transformed the Republican Party, and it is his policies that dominate what the voters in the party want.
And that makes sense, as it was Donald Trump who won over what I would call Reagan Democrats and millions of others who felt the America of the last twenty years had left them behind.
Many in the GOP want to try and go back and time, try to bring back somehow the boring pro-business, social security slashing, low-taxes, interventionist version of the GOP – make it look like a populist message – but the simple fact is Republican voters want the populism Donald Trump is selling them.
There are no two ways about it.
In effect, Donald Trump is not only the face of today’s GOP – Donald Trump is the GOP for the simple fact that the GOP still refuses to digest his message and learn the lessons of 2016.
As one top Donald Trump 2016 staffer told me just recently: “Do you want to know why Donald Trump – despite all of his mistakes and classless comments and drama – still dominates the GOP? The answer is easy to see: no one in the GOP has fully taken his vision of the party – based on populism and made it their own. Until there is a clear alternative to Trump, Trump rules. Sure, some in the party take a policy position here and there that mirrors Trump. But has anyone really gone full populist like Trump? I would argue no.”
How The GOP Can Move On: Populism Is the Answer
So what would that look like? How would one take over the GOP from Trump and beat Trump in 2024?
Well, you would need a Republican that would 100% embrace:
-non-interventionist foreign policy ideas and would be willing to call out allies in, say, Europe who won’t pay for their own defenses while we arm Ukraine to the teeth
-making China the top national security threat and spending the money and shifting the resources away from other parts of the world to make that happen
-embracing reciprocal trade deals and not blanket free trade
-refusing to cut Medicare and Medicaid
-making illegal immigration a top priority and working to ensure migrant flows are slashed. And yes, that means tariffs if trade partners cheat on deals
-battling the fentanyl crisis that is raving America
-working to ensure America’s cities are not giant homeless encampments and open drug-use areas
-being pro-law enforcement and making no compromises on that
-being willing to wage war on woke ideology
-and, finally, embracing a tough, no-nonsense, no-BS attitude when it comes to messaging to GOP voters. They clearly don’t want Mr. nice guy or gal. They want someone they feel is bold and to stand up for them.
These are why Donald Trump is the Republican Party today and why I think he would be very hard to beat in 2024.
The only way I see someone coming along and doing that is they have to embrace the vision of the GOP Trump offers GOP voters. Until that happens, Donald Trump is the king of the GOP. Like it or not.
I know what you will say: What about that Florida governor everyone is nuts over?
While some argue Ron DeSantis is the person to take Trumpism over from Trump, we still don’t know enough of his preferred policy ideas to get a sense of what he offers the GOP as the man in the Oval Office.
He could very well make the populist base happy, but I would argue the jury is still out on that. But I think we are going to find out.
Harry J. Kazianis (@Grecianformula) serves as President and CEO of Rogue States Project, a bipartisan national security think tank. He has held senior positions at the Center for the National Interest, the Heritage Foundation, the Potomac Foundation, and many other think tanks and academic institutions focused on defense issues. His ideas have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CNN, CNBC, and many other outlets across the political spectrum. He holds a graduate degree focusing on International Relations from Harvard University and is the author of the book The Tao of A2/AD, a study of Chinese military modernization. Kazianis also worked for a large telecommunication firm for ever a decade before his career in national security.