By Alex Jenson
In 2018, the first thought that comes to mind when you hear “Republican” is likely somewhat orange with a combover. However, this is a new phenomena. The party has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, though some would argue that this evolution has its roots in the Goldwater candidacy. We were fortunate to be exposed to influential elites that help illustrate the current differences in the Republican Party, and perhaps how Trump achieved ascendancy. Bill Kristol, editor at large of the now shuttered Weekly Standard, is a prominent conservative intellectual that has served as chief of staff to the secretary of education and the vice president during the Reagan and H.W. presidencies. He represents the old guard and is the most well known of the anti-trump republicans. Michael Steele is the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and former Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2009 to 2011. His is a quieter opposition to the trump republicans than Kristol’s. Finally, Sean Spicer, former campaign consultant and Press Secretary to the president. Before his departure, Spicer was the man tasked with defending President Trump’s policies to the national media. While Spicer regrets certain of his past decisions, he remains loyal to the party and to the Trump Presidency.
Let us begin with Bill Kristol, an ideological conservative, devoted to the ideals of limited government, low taxes, reduced regulation, and assertive American Leadership. He believes that Trump ran against the Republican party, benefitting from a crowded field that prevented the conservative wing of the party from unifying against him, and allowing him to achieve victory, despite having more votes cast against him in the primary than any other GOP candidate in history. Other factors included Trump’s willingness to engage in identity politics, forming white working class identity group that Kristol sees as a response to the use of identity politics by various minority groups and possibly the Democratic Party. Kristol has sacrificed a majority of his power and influence to oppose Trump. His support of a third party anti-trump candidate has resulted in his de facto expulsion from the halls of Republican decision-making. The magazine he helped found was closed in 2018. He leads a small contingent of never-Trump Republicans, but their influence is negligible. Barring an indictment of Trump and a sudden change in opinion by the majority of the Republican party, it is highly unlikely that Kristol’s wing will become relevant in future Republican politicking.
Next is Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Mr. Steele is similar to Bill Kristol in that he favors federalism and it’s capacity to protect the people from a violation of their rights. Most notably, he’s an opponent of many of the presidents policies, especially his aggravation of the most divisive issues facing the country today. He’s faced racism from within the party in the aftermath of the Trump election. However, he is unwilling to leave the party, and is dedicated to reforming it from within. However, while he is a gifted political operator with a firm grasp of the issues, his platform is currently limited to a position at MSNBC, which is not particularly influential among Republicans. His chance to regain influence may come post-trump, but he is ill-equipped and ill-supported to battle a sitting president.
Finally, Sean Spicer. While he has policy positions relatively similar to the aforementioned Republicans, he is still supportive of Trump. During his speech, in addition to discussing his past as a campaign consultant and how he became successful, he stressed how the Republican party and Trump campaign were able to work together to attain the White House. When questioned on the electoral path forward for the Republican party, he stated that Trump is beloved of the party faithful, and will be resistant to any attempts to unseat him in 2020. It is possible that these remarks are part of a strategy to emphasize the degree to which the Republican Party has embraced Trump. This is likely unnecessary, as a recent Gallup poll gives him a 89% approval rating among Republicans. It is thus fairly apparent that Trump, and those who follow him, are ascendant in the Republican party. Time will tell whether or not this support will last.
This means that the short-term future of the Republican Party is likely entirely in the hands of the President, and to a lesser extent Robert Mueller. Should Trump stay involved in the political sphere he will likely be able to wield substantial influence on the direction of the party even after his presidency. This would likely permanently exclude Bill Kristol and Michael Steele as well as their supporters from attaining relevance within the party. If, however, Mueller discredits Trump in the eyes of the GOP base (which will be next to impossible), or manages to prompt a successful impeachment (unlikely with GOP control of the Senate), the anti-Trump Republicans will have a strong platform from which to attempt to retake control of the party.