By Jonathan Bernstein
Now that President Donald Trump is clearly behind in the polls, there has been a wave of speculation about what will happen to the Republican Party after losing the election.
Probably the best thing to say about it is that it’s too soon: Trump could narrowly win a second term, or former Vice President Joe Biden could get more than 400 electoral votes, or anything between those two possibilities could happen. And even if the president loses, it could be assumed that the party’s reaction will differ depending on the margin of defeat and other variables.RELATED
But I will play a little. Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal has a good article summarizing the speculations and adding some of his own. Kraushaar is in the middle: he suspects that “the most likely scenario is that a Trump out of power will still be viewed favorably by most Republicans, but will no longer be the political force that can select the winners of the primaries nor to define the legislative strategy of the party ”.
Plausible! But so is George Will’s assumption that the day after the election, Republicans will abandon Trump and claim they never actually supported him. And so is speculation that Trump could still run and win the nomination in 2024 if he loses in November.
The point is, after all, I don’t think it has much to do with Trump. Kraushaar says Trump will continue to be active “on Twitter and beyond,” but it is the afterlife that really matters here, specifically, whether the Republican-leaning media will still treat him as the party’s leader.
I am pretty sure that most Republican politicians will be happy to see it disappear, and the same is true for almost all campaign professionals and those who work in the party government. But of course, if it were up to them, Trump would not have made the nomination in 2016.
The truth is, the Republican-led media has a lot of influence within the party, and if they choose to treat Trump as the legitimate president of the entire Biden administration, there isn’t much that Republican politicians and other party actors can do about it. .
That’s a big problem. Kraushaar says Republicans “are not suicidal” and therefore will evolve as necessary to win the election. Politicians, campaign professionals, and government officials, and most party-aligned interest groups, certainly have strong incentives to try to do so.
But Fox News, radio shows, and the rest of the conservative market could be better off if Democrats are in the White House. That doesn’t mean that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity want Republicans to lose, nor would they try to make that happen. Only, incentives are important and when they don’t point in the right direction, people’s behavior tends to follow them.
What this means for Trump’s influence after the presidency is unclear. I have no idea how the Republican-based media will judge their own markets – is it better to stick with the tested product or start trying new ones? What I do know is that the election results are always easy to explain, and if you are interested in staying with Trump, talk show hosts will be able to convince themselves that a Biden victory was in spite of Trump, not because of him.