Regardless of political opinion, it is almost universally agreed that the landscape of American politics was changed drastically by the 2016 campaign and later Presidential election of Donald Trump.
Of the many changes, one of the most stark, and consequential, has become the division within the GOP itself.
Early on in the 2016 primaries, Trump immediately began distinguishing himself from the other Republican candidates. Apart from his incendiary and often over-the-top comments regarding issues such as immigration, he broke with the party over common GOP positions on topics such as military intervention in the middle east.
His statement that our efforts in Iraq, Libya and Syria have only destabilized the region more, and a general opposition to a “war-mongering agenda” of the military-industrial complex ushered in something that has not been seen often in a Presidential candidate: positions taken for the benefit of the nation over that of the party.
This is not to say that Trump was selfless or devoted to America to any greater degree than any other politician, but unlike other politicians, he did not need the sponsorship of a political party/donors to win and thus, was free to campaign on ideals he believed in.
This rare intrusion of sincerity into an otherwise sterile political environment is problematic for those that benefit from keeping the system as it is however, and the friction it creates when it does manage to slip into the Presidential arena brings severe consequences.
Trump spoke often of how he was targeted from day 1, often by the Dems and in regards to things like “Russiagate” and the impeachment efforts, but he often referred to the “Deep State” as well.
The term implies a shadowy group of powerful people from both major political parties that dictate how the nation will be run. While it’s mentioned in some circles as conspiracy theory fodder, the fundamental idea of the “Deep State” is almost universally accepted as the feeling that no matter who you vote for, nothing drastic/significant ever seems to really change.
Regardless of what motivated him, Trump represented one of the few times we have had a leader attempt to make real change and Washington was never comfortable with it. For the GOP, once he won the primaries they had no choice but to awkwardly and reluctantly support him, however we saw that loyalty quickly collapse following Jan 6, exposing the schism within the GOP clearer than ever.
Within the Republican Party, there began to emerge during President Trump’s 4 years in office, two distinct types of politicians. Whereas before, (think back to the days of Bush W and the “neocon” label) the differences were subtle and lacking any real substance, now there were vast ideological differences.
On one hand, you have the established politicians who have risen to prominence decades ago, and benefit from the system going unchallenged and never intended “shaking the nest” despite having conservative rhetoric.
This group came to be known as RHINOs (Republicans in Name Only) while there began to emerge a new era of advantageous politicians who recognized Trump’s ability to springboard candidates popularity by aligning with him and his arguments.
Some , such as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, have leaned full into Trump’s political “midas touch”and support his positions practically across the board, while others like Ron DeSantis, have utilized his rallies and endorsements to advance his career, and certainly aligns on many issues but will also challenge Trump in key areas.
These politicians have come to be known as “America First” politicians. In the aftermath of the 2020 election and Jan 6 the divide reached its most dramatic point with Lindsey McCain and others ultimately being ousted due to their RHINO status/forming positions against Trump and Republican voters.
Some prominent politicians immediately after Jan 6 even called for a fragmentation of the GOP and maintain the argument that the party needs to shake its “RHINO” members in order to carry out the will of the people.
In this writer’s opinion, the division within the GOP is for its own good. Even as Trump’s political influence may dwindle (the “red wave” predicted during the midterms never came to fruition, and trump’s ability as a kingmaker is questioned now that some of his backed contenders lost their election bids (such as hopeful AZ governor Kari Lake) the lasting effect of sincerity into doctrine and political ideology will act as a steroid shot to the right wing and has aligned it more with the will of the people.
Whatever the opinion of Trump is to individual politicians, it is undeniable that his rise to prominence was due in large part to tapping into the hopelessness that the right’s voter base collectively felt, and the idea that he, as an outsider, was able to enact real change.
In the wake of Trump’s presidency we can only hope that it inspires/emboldens politicians to bring more sincerity to government.