There is no Trumpism without Trump

First, it’s not at all clear that such a thing as Trumpism exists, apart from Donald Trump’s own personality and grudges. Subtract Trump’s resentments and the myth of Trump the business genius and what’s left? Are immigration restriction, trade war with China, and blowing up NATO really such compelling concerns? Are those goals what energized 71 million Americans? Would they energize voters to support Tom Cotton, Dan Crenshaw, Josh Hawley, or Marco Rubio? That seems unlikely. And while there are potential contenders for the resentment vote—the cable host Tucker Carlson, Trump’s son Don Jr.—they cannot offer the myth of business success. Worse, they overdo the resentment. That’s fine for carving out a cable-TV or Facebook-based business. But if resentment didn’t work politically for George Wallace in 1968, it’s not going to work for George Wallace knockoffs in 2024.

The second problem is that Trump was felled by basic math. He polarized American society in a way that trapped him on the less numerous pole. The anti-Trump vote exceeded the pro-Trump vote by almost 3 million in 2016, by nearly 9 million in 2018, and by 5 million and counting in 2020.

Trump’s ego needs blinded him to that truth. He clutched a fantasy of his superb campaign and triumphant candidacy, and even now, he clings to the delusion that he did not really lose the 2020 election by a decisive margin. But Trumpism without Trump would face the challenge of reality. Trumpism minus Trump is Trumpism minus the excitement that mobilized Trump supporters, but still with many of the issues that repelled Trump opponents. Trumpism minus Trump has no idea how to shrink the gender gap among voters, no idea how to appeal to the college-educated, no message for the suburbs except more and noisier racism, nothing that can speak to the productive centers of the new American economy.