The Republican Party is set to enter the post-Trump era with one important advantage over Democrats. Republicans made changes to accommodate the shifting demands of a shifting electorate. Democrats plugged their ears and whistled.
As evidence, consider 1) the down-ballot losses Democrats suffered on Nov. 3, during the tenure of an unpopular president and pandemic, and 2) their total surprise at those results. Not only did they lose those races with Trump on the ticket, they lost with the full support of legacy media and Big Tech, and barely eked out a win over Trump himself.
Rather than spending the Trump years engaged in meaningful introspection, even during their primary, Democrats latched almost immediately onto Russiagate, pursued a thin impeachment case, and generally wasted an enormous amount of time breathlessly opposing every word that emerged from Trump’s mouth.
Trump’s win and Hillary Clinton’s loss should have been a wake-up call to both parties. Republicans—in the party establishment and the broader conservative movement—responded by rethinking their approach to trade, tech, foreign wars, immigration, and the culture war. As a result, the party is now in a much better position to represent the working class and minorities, and arguably even suburban voters.
Democrats responded to Trump’s win by focusing on Russia, impeachment, and daily media chatter about tweets and anonymous reports. They’re the same party now that they were in 2016, with the exception of a louder democratic-socialist wing, inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ success. Without Trump, those lawmakers will need to win on the merits of their agendas, not the merits of their opposition to an unpopular president.
Crucially, the Sanders-style newcomers lack all ability to appeal to the working class because of their obsession with identity politics, which is one of the very lessons they should have learned from Trump’s win. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., is probably right to complain that socialist messages hurt Democrats with suburban voters, but the party should be even more concerned by identity politics. Yet the one ideology that unites establishment Democrats with democratic-socialists is cultural leftism.
None of this is to say Trump was entirely a positive influence on the GOP, or the party is now perfect. Neither is true at all. But on the whole, Republicans got serious about rethinking their conventional wisdom and it left them better off in the war of ideas.
Democrats flirted with candidates like Randy Bryce, but pushed critics of identity politics further from their ranks (even hardcore leftists) and obsessed over Trump himself. Now, they’ve lost the electoral benefit of running against Trump, gained some democratic-socialists, and doubled down on identity politics. Guys in a fraternity at Arizona State know how to spend four years more productively.