Separating Trump from Trumpism is Key to the GOP's Future | Opinion

Since his November loss, no one worked harder to get rid of Donald Trump than Donald Trump. Right up until the end, he was his own worst enemy. But though he left the White House under a dark cloud, facing a historic second impeachment, Trump has not been completely defeated. As long as he remains the exclusive representative of Trumpism, he will be the most popular Republican in the country. Unless the GOP creates an alternative version of Trumpism, without Trump, he'll be back.

Trump was undone by his own predatory nature. His modus operandi was to always fight back and attack. If he did not, he was convinced, he would appear weak and lose anyway. That strategy worked for him—until it didn't.

What limits did his adversaries imagine he would respect? Since he was sworn in, the media worked to delegitimize his presidency and his administration. Democrats weaponized the FBI and intelligence agencies for political purposes. The Left politicized the People's House to impeach him and attempt to nullify the 2016 election. So, why not try to reverse the 2020 election?

When the courts ruled his concerns were insufficient to change the election's results, Trump threw out a blizzard of numbers and court cases that didn't add up. He incited his own voters with conspiracy theories and extra-constitutional notions. It was a reminder that "outside-the-box" thinking about our Constitution is never a good idea.

Liberals and the media condemned the resulting violence, destruction of property and attacks on police as a treasonous attempt to interfere with the constitutional duties of Congress. They were rightly horrified by the January 6 attack on the Capitol. However, the outrage of our ruling class is not without self-interest. For them, Trump's exit is a pot of political gold. This is their chance to silence opposition, return to business as usual and erase their rejection by America's working class.

The failures of the ruling class made Trump's ascent possible. He channeled pent-up working-class rage against a bicoastal, bipartisan establishment more interested in its own preservation than the people's welfare. Urban elites profited from globalism, unfair trade deals and the shift from tangible, blue-collar work to a high-tech service-based economy.

Those at the top of the pyramid prospered from liberal immigration policies. They cheered military conflicts fought by other people's children. They took to the streets and marched in support of ethnic and gender-based grievances that ennobled them as "woke." They held up placards for apocalyptic environmentalism while dismissing the legitimate economic and cultural anxieties of working people.

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Former President Donald Trump still command a strong following in the GOP despite being out of office. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks while formally accepting his party's nomination on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. John Moore/Getty

It wasn't just Democrats. Both political parties pandered to upper-middle-class voters and wealthy donors. Voters who went to community colleges or worked in diners where politicians posed feared the future held no place for them.

Then Trump promised to fight the Hollywood, media and political elites who looked down on them and him. The elites sneered at his fast-food tastes and nouveau-riche gaudiness, further endearing him to his supporters. Trump famously said, "I love the poorly educated!" And the poorly educated loved him back, for the same reason Washington has tried to destroy him: he represented the unadulterated rejection of America's ruling elite.

Trump remains the mirror in which our ruling class sees its complete failure and undeserved stature. They cannot stare for long without seeing what 74 million other Americans did, so they strike out at the mirror to shatter it. Never have they asked, "What have we done so wrong that made half of America prefer him?"

Working-class anger at America's nobility is not going to magically dissipate, even with Trump out of Washington, no matter how well-clothed the emperors pretend to be. The challenge for Republicans is to channel that intensity into a more positive, uplifting version of Trumpism—one that is optimistic, aspirational and universal.

Republicans must jettison Trump's demeanor, but pick up where Trump's policies left off. They should fight the concentration of political and economic power that has benefitted technology and financial giants, gather allies to force China to compete economically on a level playing field and reshape the government's spending, immigration, trade and tax policies to benefit the working class. They can show how an open economy, bottom-up growth and limited government can empower and enrich working-class Americans more than any old, top-down, artificial program. These policies will benefit working-class and all Americans willing to invest their labor and talents towards living even bigger American dreams.

The siren songs of unity and bipartisanship will tempt Republicans to revert to complacency, as a satisfied but ineffective minority. Trump understood it is impossible to gain traction without friction. Republicans must take their ideological opponents seriously, and fight for their principles with passion worthy of the stakes. Trump stood up to the political correctness mob and refused to play by their rules, or apologize for it. His supporters fear cancel culture will come for them now that he is gone, and Republicans must convince them they have the backbone to fight.

Trump built a multi-ethnic coalition of working-class voters because he fused populism and conservatism. A renewed populist conservatism would give Republicans a chance to build a durable majority coalition, but Sen. Bernie Sanders's left-wing populism beckons if they fail.

The Left and its media enablers are eager to dispose of both Trump and Trumpism. They want to undo his policies, erase his legacy, turn the clock back and reassure themselves the last four years were an aberration. The challenge for Republicans is to separate Trump from Trumpism, and there is a lot in Trumpism that is essential. Many conservatives would not miss Trump, the man, if they could preserve the ideas that were making America great.

Bobby Jindal was governor of Louisiana, 2008-16, and a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Alex Castellanos is a Republican strategist, a founder of Purple Strategies and a veteran of 4 Presidential campaigns.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.