A national party whose leaders won a civil war in the 19th century and a cold war in the 20th looks to be little more than a promotional tool for Donald Trump at this point in the 21st.
Trump will lose his titular role as head of the GOP when he leaves office on January 20, but a party cowed by his grip on voters is poised to advance his interests even when he’s out of power. The Republican apparatus is coalescing behind its defeated leader and supplying Trump with a platform as he recasts himself as a kingmaker with ambitions of his own.
He’ll get plenty of help from outside the party structure. Conservative media will keep a relentless focus on Trump as he torments Joe Biden from exile. And at a grassroots level, Republican voters will likely donate to a new political-action committee he’s created as they pine for him to run one more time. (They may not have to wait long: In a brazen bit of counterprogramming, Trump could launch his next campaign during the Biden-inauguration events he’ll likely snub.)
Forces inside the party are trying to stop him. A few prominent officials, past and present, believe the GOP risks extinction unless it purges a president who has relied heavily on a diminishing slice of white voters. They’re trying—and, so far, struggling—to win converts and excommunicate Trump. They’re up against a GOP leadership that’s determined to break from past practice and stick with an ousted president teasing the idea of a comeback.