Trump Has Left the Building. Now the GOP Must Move On From Him—Fast | Opinion

Donald Trump has (finally) left the building, but he leaves only chaos in his wake. I don't mean just the wreckage from his Capitol Hill riot. There is also the matter of the philosophical turmoil he has sown within his vehicle of convenience the last four years—the Republican Party.

Mainly because of Trump's transactional view of government and lack of any philosophical framework, the GOP is split on issue after issue, even long-term party beliefs such as size and scope of government, America's responsibilities in the world, respect for law, and America's democratic norms. Repairing these breaches will not come easily or quickly.

We must also note that the president's approval ratings have fallen to some of his lowest numbers the past four years, especially among Republicans, though he retains majority support among party members. Not once during his term did a majority of Americans approve of his presidential performance. Despite his constant bragging about "winning," the Trump years saw Republicans lose the House of Representatives, then the White House and finally the Senate. More and more Republicans, now including Senator Mitch McConnell, are desperately looking for a new direction for the party.

Sometimes it takes losing for a party to learn hard lessons. After being clobbered twice by Ronald Reagan, centrist Democrats founded the Democratic Leadership Council in 1985. The DLC recognized that the party was perceived as too far left and advocated a new course focusing more on fiscal discipline, free market solutions to social problems and welfare reform. One of the DLC's founders was Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas. Despite a rough 1988 election which the Democrats again lost, Clinton rode the DLC platform to a stunning victory in 1992. His two presidential terms succeeded in moving the Democrats back to the political center.

In 2013, following the Republicans' second consecutive loss to President Obama, the GOP launched their own "autopsy" of the 2012 election and the shortcomings of their party's message. The report's major conclusions seem to come from another time. It urged Republicans to broaden their base, attract more minority votes, resist talking just to each other, and most stunningly, embrace comprehensive immigration reform. It must be emphasized that Republicans ran on many of these ideas and won control of the Senate in 2014. Then along came Donald Trump, and well, you know the rest of the story.

An alternative future for the GOP would be to use this time out of office to test new themes and ideas, and potentially new institutions, to develop a more friendly agenda for a rapidly changing America. Here are some practical steps the party should take:

First, fully support Republicans who have incurred the former president's wrath. Trump has vowed revenge on the 10 House members who supported his impeachment as well as Republican senators and governors who acknowledged Biden's election. Republican committees, including the RGA, NRSC, NRCC and especially the RNC need to fully fund and support these officeholders.

Second, is a new organization necessary to help chart the direction of the party? Is a Republican DLC type organization viable? Many established forums (CPAC, Faith and Freedom Conference) are run by Trump apologists. The Lincoln Project founders are no longer Republicans. The goal of such a group would be to move away from The Trump era's focus on personality politics in favor of discussing policy alternatives designed to give the party a more appealing image and a program that can interest more Americans.

Third, as the party of limited government and freedom, at least historically, the GOP might experiment with a variety of ideas to deliver needed and necessary services to the public in streamlined and cost-effective ways, bypassing the federal bureaucracy whenever possible. The proposals should focus on bringing economic opportunity to all Americans, a welcome message of inclusion. As the party of federalism Republicans might also look for ways to involve the nation's governors in creative solutions to address important issues like health care, education and job creation.

A beginning here would provide an alternative to parts of the Biden stimulus plan to help move the party in a conservative direction consistent with its historical roots. This may be "boring" to incendiary cable TV hosts, but discussions of public policy alternatives should be boring. The last four years have taught us that.

Finally, the party needs to dial down the decibel level. Biden's "return to normalcy" theme was a powerful incentive for centrists and Independents to support him. Republicans should seek leaders who want to grow the party horizontally, not just vertically. Politics used to involve crafting messages that win broad support among the entire electorate, not just the "base." The need to win younger voters as well as college educated women and a larger share of minorities involves demonstrating some level of empathy and concern to Americans of all stripes.

Over 30 years ago, another Republican president was leaving his job to far greater applause. In his Farewell Address this month in 1989, Ronald Reagan spoke with his trademark optimism about the future of America as he saw it:

"Because we're a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will always be ours."

This is as good as any starting point for the GOP to rebuild.

Frank Donatelli served as assistant for political affairs to President Ronald Reagan and as deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee during the 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​