So as a sheer political matter, there can be no such thing as Trumpism without Trump, or Anti-Trumpism without Trump, or Anything Else without Trump. It is hard enough for a candidate to run away from a conventional president of his own party (Democrats couldn’t do it during midterm drubbings while Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were presidents); it is going be even harder with a president who dominates the media to an extent no other president has, and courts — nay, enjoys — radioactive controversies. Until further notice, the phenomenon we saw in 2016 of Republicans running successful, traditional campaigns at a polite remove from Trump has to be considered inoperative.
Then, there is the other, opposite problem: that Trumpism without Trump won’t be fully acceptable to Trumpists. They talk a lot about the “Trump agenda,” although what this means is vague. How could Gillespie have run on it more to their satisfaction? Promise to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it? To implement extreme vetting? To hire the best people and make the best deals? To work with Chuck and Nancy as the mood strikes him? The fact is that the Trump legislative agenda is entirely conventional (certainly Gillespie has no problem with it) and what sets Trump apart is his populist, guy-on-a-barstool persona and perpetual combativeness.