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The Death Throes of Trumpism: An Analysis of Donald Trump and His Impact on the Republican Party

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

Deep Dive Article

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When Donald Trump took the oath of office at his inauguration in 2017, few could predict the future impact it would have on American society, politics, and international standing. A botched pandemic response, nationwide protests for racial justice and intense social division, are just some of the hallmarks of Trump’s Presidency. The near cult-like following of Donald Trump among the more radical individuals in the U.S., and the new wave of ideologically driven American conservatism has entrenched political division in the country. Yet, the former President’s base is anything but secure. His role in the January 6th Capitol Riots has, this month, been all-but confirmed by the Congressional Committee investigating the events. His record of tax-evasion has once again consumed the media and is proving indefensible. For the past half decade, Donald Trump’s capriciousness while in office has fuelled comments of American decline and instability. But how did he get there? This analysis seeks to understand how Trump capitalized on the populist tendencies of the electorate to revitalize America’s conservative base and transform civil society, while providing insight on the difficulties facing the Republican Party (G.O.P) moving forwards.


Trump’s ascendency to the White House demonstrated to all that populism was a key factor in American politics. Populism in the U.S. is not constrained by party lines or ideological beliefs and has generally been looked down on by the traditional liberal intelligentsia for its anti-establishment nature. Yet, populism has existed in American politics for decades. At the time of the 2016 election, Trump was routinely compared to populist politicians of the past, like Huey Long and George Wallace, both controversial figures in their own respects. Ultimately, the term ‘Trumpism’ describes the unique brand of national populism that propelled Donald Trump to the Presidency and altered the American political landscape.

During the Trump Presidency, a new wave of increasingly chauvinistic and dogmatic officials oversaw a reshaping of foreign policy and facilitated monumental socio-cultural shifts. Stubbornly isolationist policies seeped out from the Executive into the State Department, resulting in an overall diminishment of America’s standing in the international community. Trump’s personal relations with foreign leaders reshaped long-standing diplomatic practices and strayed from traditional American foreign policy priorities. And of increasing importance, the President fanned the flames of social division and pursued an “Us and Them” approach to domestic issues. Suddenly topics which had originally been confined to the fringe debates of Twitter, around subjects such as “Wokeness”, “Culture Wars” or Critical Race Theory, became mainstream concerns for the electorate. American media and society have since become engulfed in repetitive, sometimes seemingly nonsensical divisions over previously unimportant domestic issues. Gun ownership, abortion rights, vaccine mandates and LBTQ rights, to name a few, have become vote-winning issues for congressional candidates today. Whilst these societal rifts are predominantly a by-product of the growing role social media has in our lives, Trump undoubtedly tapped into and exploited the political polarisation to advance his own policies and interests.


Trumps’ tenure in the White House helped usher in a new era of political engagement. The coalescence of misinformation on social media with an increasingly polarised traditional media brought politics into every household. Trumpist rhetoric fuelled unhealthy discourse on political topics and has pushed people to political extremes. Similarly, the reluctance of the former President to discredit radical right-wing conspiracies, or to condemn ‘alt-right’ groups such as QAnon, has helped fuel the divide. The culmination of this state-sponsored political polarisation was put on display for the world to see, with the unlawful attack on the Capitol building on January 6 last year, fuelled by election denial claims from Trump.

Trump unleashed Trumpism onto America, and forever shifted the political dynamics of the country, but the G.O.P unleashed Trump. Now it seems the Republicans are trying to distance themselves from him, while maintaining the populist support of his base. The rise of Ron DeSantis on the national stage could, however, signal the start of a new form of populism in the U.S. As the Governor of Florida, DeSantis won his first gubernatorial election by a slim margin, but in the November midterms this year, he won a 20% majority - an unprecedented victory in the state. The reasons for this lie in his anti-elite, and populist policies. DeSantis marketed Florida as a state opposed to ‘wokeness’ and open borders, prioritizing issues like gun ownership and low taxation. The Governor has a remarkable talent for appealing to his state’s electorate. He fought against COVID -19 vaccine mandates, barred the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools, and pushes traditional Christian-American values. And it works. His re-election saw him make huge gains across most of the state, including in predominantly black and Latino communities. So, the question must be asked, with a politically competent figure like DeSantis being able to tap into the populist ideas, without straying too far from the party line, does the Republican party need Donald Trump anymore?


The key defining factor of Donald Trump is his unpredictability. Throughout his Presidency, Trump was known to change policy decisions on a whim and based foreign policy on his personal relationships with leaders. This issue of volatility is perhaps even more pertinent today, if the former President’s seemingly unhinged rants on social media are any indication. Moreover, following the lacklustre performance of the G.O.P in the November mid-terms, it looks as if the allure of Trump that won him the election may be wearing off. In the recent mid-term elections, 14 of Trump’s hand-picked candidates for congress lost their elections. But this isn’t necessarily because of the political stances of these candidates; many Republican candidates who distanced themselves from Trump, while campaigning on similar platforms, did win their races. One can only assume that the association with the increasingly erratic former President, or a lack thereof, was a key determiner of electoral success. It seems the American public are switching horses too. Recent polling by YouGov suggests DeSantis is the preferred candidate to win the next G.O.P Presidential nomination, with 45% approval, as opposed to Trump’s 43%.

It is possible that the American voters are simply tired of the instability of a Trump premiership. And it’s not hard to understand why. Donald Trump’s behaviour seems to many to be impulsive and unusual. Recently, the former President announced he had a ‘Big Announcement’ on his social media app, Truth Social. After speculation that he would be announcing his intention to run for the Presidency again, he instead announced the release of his own collectable trading cards. The peculiar cards depict the former President in various costumes, from a police officer to an astronaut, retailing at a less than humble $99 per card. Furthermore, the President continues his illogical election denial rhetoric. He routinely declares that his defeat to incumbent Joe Biden was due to a 'fraudulent' and 'stolen' election, a claim that the more moderate Republican majority has slowly veered away from in recent months.

Ultimately, the former President’s luck seems to be running out. As his popularity dwindles and the younger, more composed DeSantis becomes the bookies favourite, Trump has been hit with another misfortune. This week the Congressional panel investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol has released its final 845-page report, after an 18-month inquiry. The panel has accused former President Donald Trump of a “multi-party conspiracy” to overturn his election defeat three months earlier and puts the blame for the storming of the Capitol squarely at Trump’s feet. This will no-doubt further encourage the Republican members of Congress to abandon ship, and distance themselves from the former President, and will remind the American voters of the political chaos that Trump’s Presidency produced.


The Republican party is going through a continuous process of self-identification, as it balances out the traditional Republican conservatism with the populist, ideological policies of Trump. The success of DeSantis both in Florida, and nation-wide, has shown that they can have the best of both worlds. DeSantis is able to espouse much of the same rhetoric as former President Trump, without triggering the same outroar. Whether or not he will win the nomination for the next Presidential election remains to be seen, however. The Floridian could choose to wait it out until 2028, to avoid facing off with the former President and splitting the vote, but this seems unlikely.

What is clear is that the social division in America isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The populace remains split on most political issues, even on such issues as the funding for Ukraine, which only a decade ago would not have been such a polarising debate. The rise of Trump drastically weakened America’s global standing. The storming of the Capitol building was an international embarrassment, and fuelled ideas of American decline. Donald Trump's Presidency revealed a tear in the social fabric, and brought to the surface domestic division and unrest.

The Republican Party now has a difficult next step to take. If the party chooses to unlatch themselves from the former President, they risk alienating millions of voters who support him. If the G.O.P were to embrace DeSantis as their Presidential nominee, it's unlikely that Trump would laud the announcement. The far more likely scenario is a split Conservative vote, with millions of voters refusing to show up to the ballot boxes in a display of solidarity with Trump. Likewise, should the party opt for Donald Trump as their Presidential candidate, they would no doubt have to get behind the President's more outlandish and controversial views to display inner-party unity. This would mean Republicans would have to continue their tacit approval of the former President's election-denial claims, tarnishing their credibility further. The G.O.P has a huge decision to make on the future of the party, and the country. The inner factionalism is unlikely to be solved anytime soon, and the party will undoubtedly be entering the next election in a precarious position, leaving the future of the Republican Party hanging in the balance.


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