Republicans in disarray: Where does the GOP go from here?

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“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

When President Trump exited the White House on Wednesday, he left behind a Republican Party reeling from a series of tough election defeats. Four year ago, the GOP’s prospects looked bright. It controlled both houses of Congress as well as the presidency and was primed to establish a dominating conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

But it lost the House of Representatives in 2018. Then Joe Biden defeated Trump in the presidential race. Finally, Democrats won a pair of Senate runoffs in Georgia to secure a majority — though the narrowest one possible — in the Senate.

All political parties go through periods of tension after election losses. Democrats spent years litigating the reasons Hillary Clinton lost to Trump. After President Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012, the GOP released an “autopsy” calling for the party to pivot to a more inclusive message. While there were major strategic debates involved in those analyses, the challenge facing today’s Republican Party feels more existential to many political observers.

For most of Trump’s presidency, the GOP largely stood behind him through his various scandals. But in the wake of recent election failures and the insurrectionist assault at the U.S. Capitol, the fundamental question of what the party stands for appears to be at stake.

Why there’s debate

The core conflict that will define the future of the GOP, many argue, is the battle between those who seek to carry on Trump’s style of politics and those wanting to create a less divisive image for the party.

No issue exemplifies that divide more starkly than Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Even after the deadly attack on Congress, many congressional Republicans — including potential 2024 presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Josh Hawley — backed challenges to the Electoral College results while echoing the president’s baseless fraud allegations. Others, including the party’s leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, and its 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, have criticized Trump for stoking the violence.

Some political experts predict this intraparty struggle will sink the GOP in upcoming elections. Republicans can’t win nationally without appealing to Trump’s voting base, but doing so will lead swing voters and independents to abandon the party as they have in recent contests, those critics argue. It may be years before Republicans can resolve their infighting and present a unified vision for the country, some say.

Others are quick to dismiss predictions of the GOP’s collapse. While there will be tension over the direction of the party, opposition to Democrats may be enough to bring the various factions together, they say. Some even predict that a less caustic version of Trumpism — one that keeps his underlying populist message but ditches his inflammatory rhetoric — could be a dominant political strategy in the future, especially given the structural advantages that the U.S. political system provides Republicans.

What’s next

The upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate represents a substantial test for what kind of party the GOP will be going forward. If enough Republicans join Democrats in voting to convict Trump for inciting the Capitol riot, they could not only bar him from running for president in 2024 but also send a major message about which direction the party leadership wants to go.

Perspectives

The struggle for control of the GOP will have a major impact on the direction of the country

“The Republican battle lines being formed in President Trump's final days — his loyalists vs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's establishment — will shape American politics for the next four years.” — Mike Allen, Axios

Trump has forced Republicans into a no-win situation

“Republicans in swing districts across the country may find themselves in an impossible situation: unable to get nominated unless they embrace Trump but unable to get elected if they do.” — Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post

A less aggressive form of Trumpism is still the GOP’s future

“Republicans will certainly seek to pivot from the riot, but the nativism, extreme polarization, truth-bashing, white nationalism and anti-democratic policies that we tend to identify with President Trump are likely to remain a hallmark of the Republican playbook into the future.” — Lisa McGirr, New York Times

Republicans have time to recover from their losses and regain control

“The Republican cross-currents do not mean that the party will not find direction in time to win back the Senate, plus the House, in 2022 — or to win the presidency in 2024, whether with Trump’s name on the ticket or tattooed on the nominee’s forehead.” — Tom McCarthy, Guardian

The impeachment vote will determine the GOP’s future

“Republicans stand on the brink of a historic decision over whether to punish or protect a president who many say incited a deadly mob to overrun the U.S. Capitol in a push to overturn the election result. The decision could define the party and shape American democracy for generations to come.” — Sahil Kapur, NBC News

The party factions must reach a truce if the GOP hopes to compete in future elections

“A fissure that creates a Trump party and a Republican Party would likely lead to losses up and down the ballot in swing seats and states — as there are simply not enough Republicans in the country to split themselves up and still win.” — Chris Cillizza, CNN

Republicans have every incentive to pretend Trump-era conflicts never happened

“For the majority of GOP officials, apparatchiks, and commentators who sacrificed their dignity at the altar of Trump, a collective case of amnesia seems destined to set in the moment he leaves office.” — McKay Coppins, Atlantic

For better or worse, Republicans can’t abandon Trumpism

“The horrors of [the Capitol attack] showed that Donald Trump built a tomb for the Republican Party and that they would go along and seal themselves in it. So this idea that the party will be different … I don’t see any evidence for that. Trump still has his base. Where would they go? They’re still there. They don’t take cues from what any Republican in Washington is saying.” — Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele to The Hill

The GOP’s future depends on how aggressively Democrats use their power

“The Republican Party isn’t as popular as a lot of Republicans think, but the Democrats aren’t either. We have two minority parties. If the Democratic Party gives in to its own caricatures, that will empower Republicans.” — Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg to NPR

The GOP will become increasingly radicalized unless U.S. democracy is reformed

“Two-party systems are supposed to be self-correcting. When it goes too far away from an average voter, you get punished and you moderate and go back to the middle. This isn’t happening because our constitutional system is filled with all of these counter-majoritarian crutches (like the Electoral College). … So we have to reform our institutions to compel the GOP to compete in more urban, more diverse areas — that’s the path to moderation.” — Political scientist Daniel Ziblatt to Vox

The GOP can restore its image with swing voters by partnering with Biden on key issues

“Republicans might want to start thinking about how to use what little power they will retain in Washington for the next two years to do something constructive, and perhaps repair their reputation a little and earn back some of the public trust they have rightly forfeited.” — Kevin D. Williamson, National Review

Republicans have to distance themselves from Trump to be relevant

“While it might get ugly, the data are pretty clear that for Republicans to advance as a party, they are going to have to find a way to divorce themselves from Trump.” — Philip Klein, Washington Examiner

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