The idea of a “Kinder, gentler Trumpism” floated today by Justin Webb in “The Times” is too preposterous to be worthy of serious consideration. To start with it implies that Donald Trump has some kind of ideology, that there is method in his madness. But of course that is untrue. That his eccentric, inconsistent and often deranged populism garners votes is not in doubt. The naked appeal to the gut, to fear and to patriotism and prejudice and to white supremacy is effective. Throw in a wholly specious bit of Bible toting and you have a political platform of sorts, but you don’t have an ideology.
Trump has been a disruptive and dangerous interruption to the continuity and logic of American governance. Yes over the years Republican presidents have done different things to Democrat ones, but not that different. Yes the support bases of the two Parties reflect the national divide – the two Americas. Yes Republicans are popular in Wall Street as well as in the boondocks whilst the Democrats appeal is much more cerebral. But no matter from where they have campaigned Presidents tend to do the same things in office. Except for Trump that is.
”They are all the same” is a familiar jibe about politicians the world over and, up to a point, it is true. Trump broke that mould not because of any coherent philosophy or any personal qualities of merit but because he was perceived as anti establishment. Well he was certainly that, but to be against things does not represent an “ism” . All of his political positions were negative and his rants and Tweets against the media, Muslims, liberals, foreigners and the rest were raw and incoherent as well as offensive.
The anti-Trump Republicans such as those in the “Lincoln Project” are surely the way forward for the GOP – the state of Arizona their exemplar. Here the admirable Cindy McCain reminded Republicans of decency in politics – she invited a vote for Biden not because she had suddenly become a Democrat but because she wanted to signal that the Republican Party needed to return to the republicanism of her late husband. The GOP needs to find a new standard bearer to pick up that baton.
America is changing and both political parties need to find positions that reflect that change. In the boom years of the 1950s and early 1960s there was not a huge difference between the two parties or their leaders, But there did emerge a generation change which offered a modern set of alternatives to the old men born in the 19th Century like Eisenhower. It is sometimes forgotten that Richard Nixon was the same age as John Kennedy – they had contrasting political positions and very contrasting characters. But they were both an electable new normal.
The new “new normal” is not Joe Biden and certainly not his fellow septuagenarian Trump. The Democrats have found theirs in the youthful Kamala Harris – she is the model for the GOP. The Republicans will need to find a credible alternative to the charismatic Ms Harris in 2024. The brief interregnum of the Age of Trump is over. Harris will offer a positive optimistic view of the possibilities of the future from the Centre-Left. There is no reason why the GOP should not do the same putting the madness and venality of Trump aside and reclaiming the Centre-Right for a revived but decent Republican Party.