Nor has Trumpism given rise to an army of future governing leaders. The most prominent Trumpian figures haven’t risen because they are thought leaders, policy entrepreneurs, or public-sector administrators. Rather they’ve gained celebrity primarily through their reflexive, vociferous defense of the president’s behavior du jour, whether his tax cuts and tariffs or Twitter antics and international intrigues. Loyal lieutenants they have been; independent-minded, budding successors of a movement, not so much.
Given its dearth of both governing principles and deputies prepared to govern, Trumpism’s continuation would depend on future leaders’ constantly seeking Trump’s counsel. But that’s not how politics works. Parties are fiercely loyal to their presidents while they are in office but then they quickly move on. There is little sentimentality in politics. Democrats left LBJ behind in 1969 and immediately moved past Carter in 1981. Republicans did the same to Nixon-Ford in 1977 and George H.W. Bush in 1993. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all won two terms, but not long after they walked out of the Oval Office, their parties had them in their rearview mirrors. The only president of the last half century with a sustained influence on his party’s politics and philosophy was Reagan; and—heavens—Trump is no Reagan.
It’s impossible to know which individuals will emerge as the GOP’s leaders post-Trump, but we should appreciate how little fidelity they will have to the ex-president. Trump treats others as dispensable. When he no longer possesses power, many Republicans—especially those who’ve been insulted by him—will surely be glad to reciprocate.