In yesterday's post, I suggested that we shouldn't ask what happens to the Republican Party if/when Trump loses. Rather, we should ask what happens to Trump's primary voters if/when Trump loses. Contrary to the nonsensical elite-driven models of party politics, like The Party Decides, the masses were in control, and regardless of the fact that Republican Party elites hated him, Republican voters liked what they heard from Trump. And they may want more of the same next time around, even if/when Trump loses, which brings us to 2020...
So what might we expect from the future of Trump's supporters and that segment of the party? In the past, this is the segment of the party that pulled John McCain away from immigration reform. After 2000, he was one of the Republicans pushing for more open immigration policy. By 2008? He ran with this ad.
Then there was Marco Rubio. Same thing. After the 2010 election, he entered the Senate as a tea party hero. He pushed for immigration reform. Suddenly, he was a traitor to the cause, and an establishment guy. He had to back away from his own proposal, McCain-style, and it wasn't enough.
This is the kind of thing that isn't enough for the Trump supporters.
Lesson: responsiveness to the Trump segment of the party is real. McCain, Rubio, and the rest? Yeah, bunch of tough guys.
But this isn't just about fences, nor walls. This is about birtherism, demand for a ban on all muslim immigration, registering all muslims with the government, Mexican rapists, etc.
Can Trump-style racial/ethnic rhetoric be marginalized again? Only if Trump voters allow themselves to be satisfied with more "symbolic" appeals, in the terminology of Kinder & Sanders' Divided by Color.
Notice, too, the first item on that list of Trumpisms: birtherism. Trump neither invented nor popularized it. Nor did the rest of the party do anything to tamp it down, and this is where the party will have real difficulty. Birtherism is about race, and I won't waste any time arguing about it. While Trump took the reigns from Orly Taitz as chief birther, few in the Republican Party made a serious effort to knock down birtherism. Instead, even latter-day Trump opponent Mitt Romney engaged in casual birtherism during the 2012 campaign, back when he was a big-time Trump fan.
It will be very hard for the party to pull back on racialized rhetoric after 8 years of birtherism and similar racial/ethnic conspiracy theories, such as those about his religion.
Rather, what will be fascinating to watch is the internal war within the Republican electorate between those who have been disgusted by Trump, and those who want even more racialized rhetoric. This is not a policy dispute. Years ago, E.E. Schattschneider wrote a classic, A Semisovereign People, which talked about how coalitions can fracture due to cross-cutting issues. This isn't an issue, per se, because the Trump-opponents in the Republican electorate are not motivated by, for example, an open border policy. Like George Will, they are just disgusted by the overt racism. We don't have a model for how that shakes out.
But like I've been saying, focus on the voters, not the elites. They're in charge.