How Donald Trump changed Republicans in the USA forever

Everything used to be better, they say. The phrase is likely to be very popular within the old Republican guard. After all, the Grand Old Party is unrecognizable. The only question is whether conservatism will collapse because of or with Donald Trump.

Who else is going to stop him? After Super Tuesday at the latest it is clear: at least no one from your own party is left. After the last bit of competition from the force of nature Donald Trump has bowed to Nikki Haley, the new edition of the duel between the old people is coming up in the fall.

In view of the unspeakable chaos that Trump left behind after his first term in office, one question will not go unnoticed by his opponents: How could it have come to this – again?

But it's not just the Democrats who are afraid of Election Day on November 5th. After all, the deep political divide divides the country not only into left and right. “Donald Trump is not representative of the Republican Party I fell in love with,” says the Republican Voters Against Trump website, where hundreds of disappointed conservatives are complaining. These are Americans who have prided themselves on being conservative all their lives and have now lost their political home.

Whether Trump was ultimately the cause or just the symptom of a new right, whether conservatism will collapse with or because of Donald Trump? History will show that. But one thing is certain: the 77-year-old has torn the Republican Party in two with his MAGA movement. Not only many voters, but also officials do not recognize their Grand Old Party.

The spirits that Donald Trump summoned

It was only a short-lived sigh of relief after Trump's reluctant departure from the White House. Because the loser of the election left behind much more in 2020 than orange stains on secret documents. He left, his disciples stayed. Dozens of right-wing ultras like conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene or right-wing extremist Matt Gaetz who serve as attack dogs for Trump – so wild that their master can't always rein them in. Trump himself would no longer have the genie stuffed into the bottle, even if he wanted to. Mistrust, unwillingness to compromise, even open hatred, all of this has long since become the factory default. Democrats are no longer rivals, but enemies. And anyone from your own party who negotiates with the enemy is a traitor.

“A very large part of my party really doesn't believe in the Constitution,” The Atlantic quoted in advance from the biography of former Obama challenger Mitt Romney in October. A sentence that an old-school Republican probably never thought he would have to say one day. Trump's agitation follows the principle of hit radio: Just as a station presses the same chart songs onto the listeners' ears over and over again until they become tired, the ex-president and his court continue to broadcast the same lies to the Republican electorate. At some point, skepticism becomes a habit. And out of habit, consent. According to NBC, in 2016 only five percent of citizens in the ultra-conservative state of Iowa said that Trump shared their values, today the figure is 43 percent.

Even Trump's former deputy and short-term presidential candidate Mike Pence rang the alarm bells (albeit quite late): “Will we be the party of conservatism – or will we follow the siren song of populism that has broken away from conservative principles?”

Maybe it's already too late.

Mitch McConnell – the last bit Reagan steps aside

If there were a need for a symbolic image for this “decay of morals,” it would probably be the departure of Mitch McConnell. The conservative veteran declared last week that he wanted to vacate his position as Republican minority leader in the Senate after the elections. Now one could say: Who can blame the man? McConnell is 82 years old and has recently made a name for himself with unpleasant outbursts. Knowing when to stop is, after all, “one of the most underestimated talents in life.”

But McConnell's stepping aside is much more. It marks a turning point for Senate Republicans, an unspoken passing of the baton to the new right that controls the other chamber of Congress, the House of Representatives has long had a stranglehold. The moderate senators under McConnell were the quiet echo of the Reagan era, the outgoing faction leader himself the embodiment of, from a Republican perspective, the “good old days” when the country was still united in the fight against the “evil” Soviet Union. McConnell, fossil or not, was never deaf in his left ear. In contrast to the ultra-loud ultra-right of the party, he dared to seek conversation. Not out of left-wing longing, but out of right-wing pragmatism.

Nevertheless, McConnell will also go down in history as one of the men who opened the door to Trump and his followers. Like so many moderate and conservative party colleagues, he had dismissed the dazzling real estate mogul from New York as an inexperienced upstart and criminally underestimated him. Today he has to watch as the party to which he dedicated his life is crumbling from within. It's ironic, as McConnell was once under the fatal misconception that he could abuse Trump as a tool.

The new wild ones are coming

“I said back in 2016 that it would take 25 years for the party to really get rid of him (…). Now I don't know if I gave it enough time,” CNN quoted former Trump opponent Jennifer Horn as saying Chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.

Trump as a figure, as a phenomenon, has achieved cult status, literally. If you don't follow your light like a moth, you have no chance. This massively contradicts republican thinking. There have always been strong leading figures in the past decades. However, the party always came first. Since Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidency in the 1950s and 60s, it has embodied a USA with international leadership aspirations, as the patron of a Western community of values. With Trump's “America First” doctrine, the tradition ended – “We” becomes “You”. 15 of the 17 Republican senators elected since 2018 recently voted against further aid to Ukraine, tweeted Republican Sen. Eric Schmitt of Missouri. The Republican era of isolationism has begun.

The GOP is also no longer the elitist club that beats out its well-born members in smoky back rooms. Experience, which was long considered the most important quality for top politics, especially among conservatives, has not only lost massively in value, but is now almost considered a flaw. Anyone who has been there for a long time is corrupted by power and is part of the Washington swamp. This weakens the old party establishment enormously and paves the way for radical outsiders. These “new savages” not only bring a breath of fresh air from the sharp right, but also a new language. It's simple, aggressive and, above all, loud. Comfortable opinions become facts, inconvenient facts become fake news.

Conservatism, which gives it its name, actually wants to preserve something, even in the USA. Preservation, mind you, does not mean standing still. The idea is that Washington should interfere as little as possible in citizens' household and court affairs. Land of the Free, the older ones remember. In 2024, Trump will run again with the promise of disempowering the left-wing elite and draining the corrupt Washington swamp. In reality, he needs the musty climate to survive. Trump has little to do with preservation. Trumpism, it turns out, has a conservative tinge, yes. But the paint is peeling off. And no one bothers to paint anymore. A Grand New Party.

Sources: “New York Times” (1); “New York Times” (2); NBC; Stanford University; “Conversation”; “The Hill”; CNN