The optimist’s take is that the way to do this is clear: Trump was at his most unpopular when he behaved grotesquely and ceded policymaking to the Republican old guard, so his would-be successors need to act less like tinpot tyrants, eschew the ranting and the insults, and also make good on some of the policy promises Trump left by the wayside. A populism 2.0 that doesn’t alienate as many people with its rhetoric, that promises more support for families and domestic industry, that accepts universal health care and attacks monopolies and keeps low-skilled immigration low, all while confronting China and avoiding Middle East entanglements and fighting elite progressivism tooth and nail — there’s your new Republican majority.
But there are other possibilities. One is that some of the voters who turned out for the G.O.P. in the last two presidential cycles were drawn in by Trump’s celebrity charisma as much as by any of his policy arguments — that if he alienated suburban women with his finger-in-your-eye behavior, it also helped elevate his appeal with the country’s disaffected blocs. In which case you can’t just shave off the rough edges and expect a different politician to claim the same support. Rural white voters in Wisconsin who felt forgotten by both parties, or Latino men around Miami alienated by wokeness, or for that matter the rebellious grassroots conservatives who backed Trump’s 2016 primary campaign — do any of them respond the same way to a Republican who has picked up the language of populism but comes across as a stuffed shirt rather than a tough guy, a nerd rather than a tycoon, a politician rather than a star?
Then even if it were possible for another Republican to claim and expand his coalition, it’s not clear that Trump himself will let that happen.