The Political Legacy of Donald Trump

Many have offered an opinion on the legacy of President Donald Trump. Though few on either ‘side’ can admit it, the legacy has both good and bad, though there is no doubt that what he will most be remembered for occurred on January 6.

Speaking strictly politically, Donald Trump leaves a very decided legacy for Republicans. It is amazing and unprecedented, at least in the last several generations, that a President leaves office with opinions of the ex-President so divided among his own party. Even more, it is surprising that opinions are so divided when the political legacy he leaves is clear, both in the short term and the longer term.

Donald Trump has an astonishing legacy politically, one which begs the question of long-time Republicans:  it they believe in the principles generally held by the Republican Party or if they believe in Donald Trump. That question is germane because the two are actually somewhat opposite.

Politically speaking, Trump’s legacy is clear. In the near term, Republicans have lost ground since he took office and he is personally responsible for Republicans losing control of the Senate. In the longer term, he has divided the Republican Party and caused more than a dozen Fortune 100 companies to announce they will no longer donate to Republicans because of the events of Jan. 6 and Trump’s attempt to overturn the election results. So, going forward, Republicans are not only divided but will have a built in handicap in funding campaigns that gives a significant advantage to Democrats. We can explore these in more detail. 

The most basic and obvious evidence of Donald Trump’s near term impact on the Republican Party is that four years ago when he took office, Republicans also controlled majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Four years later, Republicans control none of them.

In the Senate, by the almost unanimous opinion of every professional campaign staffer and politician, both Democrat and Republican, Donald Trump, personally, is the reason that the Democrats gained control. How? Georgia had a runoff election in January for two Senate seats. Republicans were the incumbent for both, and Republicans hold every statewide office in Georgia. They only had to win one of the two to retain control of the Senate and keep Democrats from controlling the Senate, House and the Presidency. In the two months prior to the Georgia elections in January, Trump repeatedly talked about how Georgia elections were rigged (because he lost in November).  The two times that Trump campaigned in Georgia, he spent more time talking about his ‘rigged’ defeat than trying to help the Republican Senate candidates and even asked one of the Senate candidates-while on stage-to help him overturn the November election, taking the focus off what he was supposedly there to do. When Trump sent out fundraising appeals for the Georgia elections, the money went to his PAC and he disbursed some of it to the Republican candidates (he retained tens of millions of dollars). By contrast, when Joe Biden sent out fundraising appeals for the Democrats in the race, the money went directly to them.

Republican voters didn’t turn out because they had been told elections were rigged. Polls showed independent voters were increasingly turned off and support for the Republican candidates dropped, along with Trump’s popularity ratings, from November until the election in January. As could be expected, Republicans lost both seats and so Democrats will control the whole of the Federal government for at least the next two years. As Michael Steele, former Chairman of the Republican National Committee said “This should have been easy.”

 As much as the Republican Party has declined in the last four years, the longer term prospects are worse.

After the events of Jan. 6, when Trump supporters attacked the Capital and the assembled lawmakers, more than a dozen Fortune 100 companies announced that they will no longer donate to Republican causes, automatically putting Republicans at a disadvantage for the next election cycle. That these companies made their announcements public, rather than just quietly not contributing, made even more of a statement.

Trump, and his children, have said that they will work to defeat several Republican lawmakers in Washington who they think did not fight hard enough to change the election results. After personally endorsing both the governor and secretary of state in Georgia, Trump also said he will work to have them defeated, along with various state lawmakers in Wisconsin and Michigan who he also said did not help him enough.

Judging by his own words, Trump will be working as hard to defeat Republican candidates as he has to defeat Democratic candidates.

For Republicans of a certain age, it is interesting to compare Donald Trump with Ronald Reagan, from whom Trump resurrected the slogan ‘Make American Great’ Again. Both were former Democrats who later switched parties. Trump was a big donor to the Senate campaign of Hillary Clinton, his future electoral opponent. Reagan was a former union president who was a fan of FDR and the New Deal.

Reagan worked to build up the Republican Party at every level and made it more conservative. Reagan’s famous “11th Commandment”, that you don’t publicly criticize another Republican, is in sharp contrast to Trump’s style of attacking anyone who disagreed, Democrat or Republican, and threatening Republicans who did not vote his way by campaigning against them in Republican primaries. While Reagan worked to build the Party, Trump worked to change the Party to make it his own. As a result, right or wrong, many prominent conservative voices have left the Republican Party.

Reagan’s efforts helped Republicans make gains at every level while he was in office and for years afterward. When Reagan took office, Republicans gained control of the Senate for the first time in 25 years, and Republican control of state legislatures grew as well. By building the Party at all levels, Reagan won re-election and his Vice President also won election after Reagan left office.

When Trump took office, Republicans had controlled the House of Representatives for six years and the Senate for two years. After four years of the Trump Administration, they control neither and Trump lost his bid for re-election and prospects for Republicans look even worse going forward.

If you are a Republican and are worried about Democratic control of all aspects of the Federal government, there can be no doubt you are in much worse shape politically after four years of a Trump Presidency.

If you are an avid Trump loyalist, who is either thinking of leaving the Republican Party or want others (such as anyone who opposes Trump, for example) to leave the Republican Party, then you are proof of the above.

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