President Donald J. Trump closes his presidency on Wednesday as a tragic hero. The fatal flaw that made him successful — his will to win, regardless — also brought about the bitter conclusion to his term.
Unlike his predecessors, he never broke the law (Clinton), or the rules of the Constitution (Obama), but he tested the limits of democracy by trusting his “movement” to impose its will.
His boldness made him an extraordinarily successful president — until his disastrous January 6 challenge, which has left the Republican Party divided and dispirited.
What now? There will be many efforts to prescribe a future direction for the MAGA movement, for the party, and for conservatism.
The immediate task will be to push back against the agenda of President Joe Biden.
Biden is already promising to put 11 million illegal aliens on a pathway to citizenship, for example — an idea the American people have rejected for fifteen years, at least without border security first. The arrival of new migrant caravans at the border, drawn by Biden’s promises, emphasizes the danger.
Biden will also re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement, which prescribes slower growth for the U.S. while allowing leeway to China and other “developing” nations. Even climate experts agreed, when Trump pulled out of the accord, that it did little for the planet.
To a large extent, Biden’s sweeping promises will be defeated more by reality than by Republicans. “For a left-wing party in power, its most serious antagonist is always its own past propaganda,” George Orwell observed.
Yet the political opposition must still decide what it believes.
The Republican Party’s core commitment is to the Constitution — to its vision of free people and inalienable rights; to its model of checks and balances; to its federalist structure that allows states to go their own way.
The urgent need to defend the Constitution will become clear as Democrats prepare to end the Senate filibuster, pack the courts, add new states, and crack down on free speech.
Beyond that constitutional focus, the party must find its way forward on policy.
In 2009 and 2010, the Tea Party rose up in opposition to profligate government spending. That is no longer a credible basis for opposition. Under Trump, deficits soared.
Republicans hoped to grow the economy enough to ease the government out of deficit, but Democrats, as always, showed no will to cut spending. And the coronavirus pandemic saw massive fiscal interventions, with more on the way.
Eventually, the spending spree will have to end. Either the U.S. will rein in spending and reform entitlement programs, or else we will have to default.
There was a brief moment of opportunity under Obama when both parties might have been willing to take the leap together. But Obama refused to lead, ignoring the recommendations of the bipartisan commission he assembled. Republicans should offer that leadership — but an effective opposition is going to require something more.
Rebuilding without Donald Trump must include his policies, the “MAGA” agenda. Republicans must stand for strong borders, and against illegal immigration, for example.
The GOP should also retain Trump’s approach to free trade, which was astonishingly successful, and insist on reciprocity with our trading partners.
In foreign policy, “America First” should remain the Republican approach, building military strength and supporting American allies while avoiding needless wars.
On the economy, Republicans should remain the party of growth, against the Democrats’ efforts to impose redistribution — which invariably means having less to redistribute.
Trump began to solve the most vexing problem in contemporary American politics — black poverty — by emphasizing pro-growth policies, prioritizing manufacturing, and enforcing immigration laws.
Democrats propose raising taxes to pay for more government aid, a statist version of “trickle-down” economics.
That suits Wall Street, which seems to emerge from each crisis wealthier than before.
Wall Street backed Democrats heavily in 2020, and big corporations are helping the left crush freedom of speech. They bankrolled the left-wing mobs that besieged our cities; they are enforcing the “cancel culture” that aims to drive dissent out of American politics.
Trump succeeded when he emphasized Main Street. That is where Republicans’ economic emphasis must continue to be.
Republicans can also challenge Democrats’ claim to be the party of “science.” The pandemic has proved that boast to be a farce, as Democrats imposed unnecessarily harsh lockdowns, and the teachers’ unions in big Democrat-run cities and states forced children to stay at home when they were at minimal risk of transmitting the coronavirus or suffering its worst effects. The left’s push for universal transgenderism, and for abortion until birth, also defy basic scientific realities.
In a post-Trump era, the Republican Party also has an opportunity to correct some of his mistakes. For example, Trump was overly hostile to opponents, at times. To many of his supporters, his tactics seemed necessary, because he faced near-universal opposition from the media, and because the Democrats were determined to destroy him before he began.
They are determined still: they are attacking his business and his brand, and will not stop until they have impoverished him.
Against a Democratic Party that still cannot bring itself to condemn left-wing rioters; against a new president whose first response to the Capitol riots was to call the police racist; and against a media that still portrays America as an evil nation, Republicans should set an example for civility and inclusivity. These were values to which Trump paid tribute but rarely emulated.
With faith as its guide, the Republican Party can restore fellowship among Americans while defending freedom.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His newest e-book is How Not to Be a Sh!thole Country: Lessons from South Africa. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.