That means a Republican Party committed to Trump’s strategy of maximizing support among the white voters most uneasy with America’s demographic and social changes may endure for years, even as the nation’s racial and religious diversity inexorably grows. That view is common, though not unchallenged, inside the GOP, both among those who welcome and fear that prospect.
“It is entirely feasible, looking forward, that Trump loses by 10 points and Republicans lose six seats in the Senate,” says Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center who has been critical of Trump personally, but sympathetic to aspects of his agenda and vision for the party. “That’s a scenario … that will change the narrative and embolden the revolt against modified Trumpism. But it’s not going to change the dynamics of the party.”
Read: The Republicans telling their voters to ignore Trump
From the other pole of the GOP, Mike Madrid, a former political director for the California Republican Party, largely agrees. “I don’t believe Trumpism is going away,” says Madrid, a co-founder of the Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans working to defeat Trump. “There will be a much more sizable voice for a different direction. The problem is, it’s not likely to be big enough, because the base is still his base—it’s still 75 percent of folks” in the party.
No GOP leader discussed as a possible 2024 contender has openly criticized or broken from Trump. The two who seem to be auditioning most directly to take up Trump’s mantle are Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri. Cotton’s New York Times op-ed urging the deployment of troops to America’s cities was widely seen among Republicans as more evidence that he wants to run in 2024 as the most unwavering defender, and extender, of Trump’s revolution inside the party. He has also unreservedly rejected the idea that racism in policing is a systemic problem (without ruling out support for some reforms), and he’s moved to the forefront of Republican opposition to immigration.
Hawley hasn’t been quite as confrontational on the protests, but he co-sponsored legislation from Cotton to cut legal immigration in half, recently called for eliminating the World Trade Organization, and has echoed Trump’s “America First” populist language. With degrees from Stanford University and Yale Law School (Hawley) and Harvard University and Harvard Law School (Cotton), each man may “try to pose as a more sophisticated and effective version of Trump,” says Geoffrey Kabaservice, the director of political studies at the libertarian Niskanen Center and the author of Rule and Ruin, a history of moderates inside the GOP.
It’s a measure of Trump’s iron grip on the party that Nikki Haley, his former U.N. ambassador who has resolutely avoided criticizing him—and even praised his law-and-order speech last week—is viewed as probably the closest thing to an alternative path for the party. Without ever overtly breaking away, she has signaled some contrary instincts. Her tweet expressing anguish about George Floyd’s killing seemed like another sign that she is positioning herself as a “kinder and gentler” heir to Trump, reminiscent of how George H. W. Bush ran when he succeeded Ronald Reagan in 1988. Similarly, she insisted on a conservative podcast that America needs immigrants: “We need the skills; we need the talent; we need the culture.” (Like her Floyd tweet, that drew her a stiff rebuke from conservative media.) Still, one of her main political messages since leaving office has been to urge a harder line in America’s relations with China.