Donald Trump’s election loss now formally removed him from office after just four years. Whether this defeat will diminish his influence on the Republican Party is yet to be seen. The Grand Old Party (GOP) stands at the crossroads of its own future.
A Comment by Robin Haug
Over the past four years, the Republican party has become Trump’s party. Since the Republican primaries in 2016, most influential Republican then-opponents and influential party members like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and Chris Christie have stood behind Trump and his political style, known as Trumpism. With the exception of Mitt Romney, all Republican senators even defended President Trump and his openly illegal use of power by voting against the first impeachment in early 2020.
Without a real party agenda for the election cycle 2020, the GOP made itself completely dependent on its shiny front figure. His election loss therefore creates a massive power vacuum within the party. So where does the GOP go from here? The Senate race in Georgia as well as the widespread rumor of Trump running again for president in 2024 in the wake of the horrific siege of Congress through militant and radical Trump supporters are two major current events with the possibility to shape the long-term character of the GOP. Major implications for Europe and the transatlantic partnership included.
Senate races in Georgia – a defeat for Trumpism?
Already on election night, the two Senate race-offs in Georgia became crucially important for the GOP. Losing the White House and failing to win the majority in the House of Representatives, the GOP needed one of the two contested Senate seats in Georgia to keep its Senate majority and some political power in Washington with it. With Georgia already delivering extremely tight results in the presidential election, the Senate race-offs promised to be even more close. Both Republican incumbents, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, quickly decided to jump onto the Trumpism train as the best strategy to retain their seats.
Besides inviting Trump to their rallies to try to mobilise voters, both candidates went down the full path of Trumpism, completely aligning with Trump’s political agenda, backing him up in his unproven claims about massive voter fraud in Georgia as well as opposing the formal certification of the election result in the U.S. Congress. The final results spoke for themselves as Perdue and Loeffler both lost to their democratic challengers, leaving the GOP without any major political power on the federal level right now. Although election defeats are always the result of a variety of reasons and complex interactions (e.g. voter turnout, mobilisation strategies, etc.), Georgia can be a blueprint. It shows that Trumpism is no guarantee to win elections for the GOP. Instead, Trumpism solely seems to work with Trump himself on the voting ticket. Like no one and nothing is better than the original.
Trump 2024 – Make America Great Again Again?
It would be naive to believe that just because Trump finally announced in early January that a new administration would take over and that he would guarantee a smooth transition of power that Trump fully acknowledged his defeat in the 2020 presidential election. The other part of the truth remains as well that he has never officially conceded to Joe Biden and formally acknowledged his election defeat. Instead, all his actions from repeating unproven claims of massive voter fraud, tons of legal challenges in key swing-states to his threatening attempt of the Georgian secretary of state to “just […] find 11,780 votes” in the weeks and months after the election thwart his above mentioned 3 minute long “concession speech”.
The long-story message has remained the same over and over again: Trump didn’t lose, the election was rigged, and the Democrats stole it. That this storytelling can have an immediate and horrific impact on U.S. democracy could already be observed as militant and radical Trump supporters sieged the U.S. Congress during its election certification process – a formal act only! But aside from that, Trump’s story of a stolen election also seems to work in much bigger style. In an Economist poll from early December, 4 out of 5 Republicans agreed with the president about an unfair and stolen election. This also includes average Republican voters which ultimately shows how strong Trump’s support remains within the party base. This gives space to the wide-spread rumours that Trump could announce another presidential run in 2024.
Given another Economist number that around 50 percent of Republicans support the idea of Trump running again for presidency in 2024 and final remarks to his supporters “that our incredible journey is only just beginning” during his “concession speech”, the rumours could become reality. As long as no legal or health-related issues might stop this move. Another Trump run for presidency in 2024 could leave the GOP in a major dilemma. There are two options. Firstly, the party could follow him again into another four years of populist presidency or into another general election defeat with no political agenda and no new rising stars for the future. Secondly, the Republican party reinvents itself from scratch, returning to old or building new political agenda keystones like fiscal consolidation or a serious migration/border security reform. That would include completely distancing the entire party from Trump himself which party leaders already tried in the aftermath of the Georgian Senate race defeats.
The downside and potential major risk of this strategy would be to expose the party to an internal conflict between Trump’s strong supporter base and moderate Republicans, potentially culminating in the GOP presidential primaries when Trump would face a new rising Republican star. Whether the role of Trump during the siege on the US Congress will be the final chapter to align the Republican party against him needs to be seen. Despite that event and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell being open to support the second impeachment trial to openly break with Trump, still a handful of Republican senators and more than 120 Republican House Representatives decided to formally vote against the certification of the election result. Either way, the stakes for the party could not be higher if, or rather whenever, Trump will announce his second presidential run for 2024.
Potential implications for the transatlantic partnership?
Paradoxically, the field of foreign policy has remained the political issue that was most contested by Republicans throughout Trump’s presidency. Prominent Republicans like Mitt Romney, Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio spoke out publicly against Trump’s plan to withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany in summer 2020. The U.S. Congress even overwrote Trump’s veto against the U.S. military budget in a bipartisan effort with lots of Republican votes. Due to the bipartisan character of U.S. foreign policy, the immediate implications for the transatlantic partnership will surely remain the same obvious ones for now: demand for increasing military spending by the EU and NATO partners and a European discussion about the necessity of a more independent EU defence mechanism.
But the future development of the Republican party can have major implications for the transatlantic partnership in the long-term. If the GOP stays strongly interconnected with Trumpism and heads into the 2024 presidential election with Trump as its frontrunner, U.S. foreign policy action would become highly unpredictable again and the country’s isolationist tendencies would only increase. Furthermore, Europe would need to become aware of the fact that the U.S. could drastically change its foreign policy every four years depending on the presidential election results.
As a consequence, Europeans would need to become much more independent in security and foreign policy questions whether they are ready for it or not. If the GOP picks the way of renewing its political agenda, including security and foreign policy issues, it will be much easier to predict upcoming possibilities of cooperation and conflicts of interests within the transatlantic cooperation. This would however not automatically vanish the danger of an isolationist U.S. foreign policy completely since this political conviction has long been part of U.S. foreign policy identity long before Trump’s presidency. It is still found at both ends of the political spectrum within the Democratic and the Republican party today.
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Robin works as an international business consultant. He obtained a Master of Arts degree in Political Science with a focus on International and European politics from the University of Bamberg. Beforehand, he studied Political Science at the universities of Freiburg and Cardiff. He focuses his analyses and expertise on foreign policies of major powers, international organisations such as the UN, the EU, and NATO, and the development of (national) political identities. The U.S. and the transatlantic partnership has been a regional focus for Robin throughout his professional and personal life. He is a member of the programme The America(n)s at Polis180.