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The Donald Trump Cult Has Taken Over the GOP

Former American President Donald Trump is cruising to renomination in the Republican party’s presidential primary, and he is tied with sitting President Joseph Biden in general election polling.

Former President of the United States Donald Trump speaking with attendees at the 2023 Turning Point Action Conference at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. By Gage Skidmore.

Donald Trump’s Resilience in the GOP is Astonishing – Former American President Donald Trump is cruising to renomination in the Republican party’s presidential primary, and he is tied with sitting President Joseph Biden in general election polling.

This is remarkable. Trump is facing dozens of felony charges; he has criticized Israel’s sitting prime minister in the middle of a war; he has never won the popular vote and has meager coattails for candidates associated with him. American political parties almost never re-nominate a losing candidate. Yet he is on the cusp of victory.

Donald Trump’s Remarkable Electoral Appeal

Trump’s lead in the GOP primary is enormous and has been for a year. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was supposed to seriously challenge with Trump. He has been an electorally successful governor in his home state, and his policy positions align with those of Trump’s die-hard voters.

Yet he has flailed. And none of the other Trump challengers have remotely made in-roads against him. Trump is so confident of victory that he has skipped the GOP’s primary debates and is widely seen as more like a cult figure than a politician. 

Trump’s chances against Biden are good too. Again, this is amazing. Trump has been indicted again and again this year. He has a long history of criminal behavior, stretching back to his days as a real estate magnate and casino owner. He facilitated a semi-coup against the US government on January 6, 2021. By contrast, Biden is decent manager who has steered the country reasonably well through difficult foreign crises and into an excellent economy. Yet the race is 50/50.

The Trumpized GOP of the Future

Trump’s imminent victory in the GOP primary, for the third time and by a large margin, portends a major shift in American politics.

The Republican party has changed dramatically in a short period. Trump’s renomination seals the ‘trumpization’ of the party. This trumpized GOP will outlast Trump himself.

Trump is 77. At some point soon, he will retire. But his ideological imprint on the party will almost certainly endure. Among ‘never Trump’ Republicans and other GOP moderates, there has long been a hope that when Trump leaves the stage, the party will bounce back.

This is unlikely. It is true that Trump has no obvious successor. His children do not have the charisma he does, nor have they ever won an election race. And there are certainly a lot of Reaganite Republicans, neoconservatives, moderate Republicans, and other anti-Trump GOP elements floating around. But they have never found an avatar. Most anti-Trump Republicans are aging figures like Senators Mitch McConnell or Mitt Romney. They represent the past and will slowly be replaced by ‘MAGA’ (Make America Great Again) Trump-aligned figures. In Ohio, for example, newly elected Senator J.D. Vance speaks the language of modern Trumpism, while the state’s old-style Republican governor, Mike DeWine, is a Reagan-esque figure who will soon retire. This is the GOP future.

The Issues of the Trumpist GOP

The Trump GOP differs from the traditional Republican party on two primary axes – economics and foreign policy. Republican President Ronald Reagan forged the previous GOP synthesis – a fusion of social conservatism, foreign policy hawkish, and libertarian economics. This Reaganite framework is fading. On economics, Trumpism is more populist, statist, and interventionist. Trump was comfortable promoting protectionism, infrastructure, and government spending. The budget deficit exploded during his presidency. Trump also passed an upper bracket tax cut – per the old GOP synthesis. The future of the GOP on economics will be a struggle between that old and the new. A big spending trumpist conservativism is unaffordable if the Reaganite commitment to tax cuts is maintained.

But the biggest change so far, surprisingly, has been on foreign policy. Voters traditionally do not care much about foreign policy. The various quagmires of the war on terrorism briefly brought a voter focus on our overseas wars. The electorate wanted them to stop. Trump criticized the Iraq War for the votes, but Trump Republicans have expanded this into a full critique of US internationalism. GOP reticence to help Ukraine fight Russia – long America’s opponent in the Cold War – is a remarkable turn-around, as growing alienation from long-standing allies in Europe and Asia. We now have a quasi-isolationist party in America for the first time since the 1950s.

A More Divided American Future

Trump and trumpist politicians like Vance are pulling the GOP to the right. American polarization has increased. Biden is centrist, technocratic Democrat. That was part of his appeal in 2020. He promised far less drama and chaos than Trump. But behind Biden, the Democrats have shifted leftward, as the Gaza debate has exposed. Trump’s re-election would almost certainly set these extremes against each other in harsh, divided American future.

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

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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.