Why Trumpism will live on long after Donald Trump stops being US president

US politics experts say Donald Trump and the brand of Trumpism he has created will continue to have an impact on the country and the Republican Party for some time after he is replaced as president this week.

Trump supporters holding a 'Stop The Steal' rally at the US Capitol on 6 January.

Trump supporters holding a 'Stop The Steal' rally at the US Capitol on 6 January. Source: Getty Images

After Joe Biden's inauguration on 20 January, Donald Trump will become a diminished figure without the trappings of power that come with the highest office in the United States - or his Twitter account.

But US political experts say despite his fall from power, the man - and the politics of nationalism and resentment he so carefully cultivated - will be around for a long time to come.

“Trump will be a feature of American life until he dies,” said Associate Professor of American Politics, Brendon O’Connor, from the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

“This is someone who thrives on attention. The idea that he will go quietly into the night and be a seldom heard from ex-president like George Bush is pretty unrealistic.”

But while Mr Trump may continue to seek centre stage, Dr John Hart from the Australian National University said the recent riot at the US Capitol - and the outpouring of condemnation it provoked from around the world - has made his future questionable.

“Trump is badly damaged, his leadership of the Republican Party looks a lot less certain this week than it did a couple of weeks ago,” Dr Hart said.

He said the willingness of senior Republican figures to entertain the conviction of Mr Trump at his second impeachment trial, including that of Senate leader Mitch McConnell, showed traditional Republicans would try and put Mr Trump’s politics behind them.

Authorities are gearing up for more pro-Trump riots in the lead-up to Inauguration Day.
Authorities are gearing up for more pro-Trump riots in the lead-up to Inauguration Day. Source: ABACA

“What you’ve got now is a Republican Party leadership that is determined to regain control of the Republican Party for a more responsible conservatism,” he said.

Timothy Lynch is a professor in American politics at Melbourne University. He said many traditional Republicans would be hoping Mr Trump fades quickly from view, which could be likely given his age of 74. 

“He is the oldest ex-president in the history of the Republic, he may go into some sort of physical or cognitive decline," he said. 

“He may also just fade in relevance - nothing fades quite as quickly as an ex-president, especially a one-termer.”

Trumpism after Trump

But whatever happens to Mr Trump personally, all three academics SBS News spoke to agree in some form or another that his brand of politics will continue for some time to come.

Dr Hart said in part that was because the sort of angry, nationalistic, anti-globalist politics associated with Mr Trump had its roots in the Republican Party well before Mr Trump became its leader.

“Politics of grievance, nationalism, will linger around. It’s not going to go away, because it’s been around for a number of years before Trump came on the scene,” he said.

“Before now, that racism [and] white nationalism was using the Republican Party as a vehicle and it had a fairly effective leader in Trump. Whether they can continue using the Republican Party as their vehicle to gain political power is in question. I think establishment Republicans will do their best to rid the party of Trump and Trumpism. But it will be hard-going.”

Professor Lynch said a problem for Republicans trying to move on from Mr Trump was the 74 million votes he received - more than any other Republican candidate in history - showing the enduring popularity of his politics.

“Many Republicans will see the only way you can keep that 74 million and increase that share of the vote is by siding with Trump,” he said. 

“At first, Trump was consequential because he seemed to show to Republicans that 'this is the way to take power', but now they have lost it - the White House, both houses of Congress - that might be good for the traditional Republicans.” 

Professor O’Connor also noted Republican Party leaders faced a difficult challenge in keeping Mr Trump’s supporters and base engaged while also winning back the centre-ground of American politics.

“How do they maintain this new base, without embracing that kind of conspiratorial anti-government rhetoric, that Trump drummed up?  How do you maintain those supports without going into the, quite frankly, neo-fascism of Trump at times? So that may be an impossibility,” he said.

Eyes on 2024

Dr Hart said it was almost impossible to predict what direction the Republican Party would go in 2024 until it was known whether the Senate would convict Mr Trump on his second impeachment charge and subsequently vote to bar him from ever holding office again.  

Mr Trump has consistently teased the idea of running for president again in 2024.

But if he was prevented from running again, many Republican figures including senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley have already been trying to position themselves as heirs to the throne of Trumpism.

US Senator Ted Cruz is one of several trying to tap into Mr Trump's base.
US Senator Ted Cruz is one of several trying to tap into Mr Trump's base. Source: AFP

“It will be hard to think a Republican wouldn’t want to replicate the Trump approach, but perhaps without the extremes, the madness of the conspiracies,” Professor O’Connor said.

“They will see it as likely a more winning path than what was, frankly, a pretty unsuccessful path for someone like [2012 presidential candidate] Mitt Romney,” he added.

Professor O’Connor said the success of any future Republican candidate relied on holding together the two wings of the party.

“There are two solid constituencies that the Republicans have relied upon; this sort of low tax, relatively pro-globalisation part of the party, and the culturally conservative, often religious, white nationalist, populist, part of the party.

“Those two groups don’t sit very easily together in terms of policy but Trump has been the master of using smoke and mirrors to bring those groups together.

"Whether anyone else can perfect that trick is hard to say.”

Watch Joe Biden's inauguration live on from 3am (AEDT) on Thursday 21 January. 

6 min read
Published 18 January 2021 at 5:03pm
By Jarni Blakkarly