Until GOP moves on from Trump and his voters, true conservatism is dead

The loyalty and rabidity of Trump’s voters is inarguably the biggest reason why Republicans won’t quit him. Because it’s not enough to leave Trump behind — they’d have to leave his voters too.

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the South Carolina State House on Jan. 28 in Columbia, South Carolina.

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“Press them hard enough, and most Republican officials… will privately admit that Donald Trump has become a problem,” writes McKay Coppins in a new Atlantic piece. “Aside from his most blinkered loyalists, virtually everyone in the party agrees: It’s time to move on from Trump.”

I don’t doubt that’s true, and Coppins’ piece is, as usual, well worth reading.

As he relays it, Republicans think maybe it will be the indictments that do Trump in, or that he’ll simply get bored with politics. Or maybe “the situation will resolve itself naturally” — i.e., Trump dies of old age.

Yes, these are all ways it could end — figuratively and literally — for Trump.

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But that’s not enough. While the party may be ready to move on from him, it clearly isn’t ready to move on from Trumpism. And to do that, they’ll have to not only leave Trump, but his voters, behind.

Just over four years ago, and coming off of the late Sen. John McCain’s funeral, I wrote a long piece for Vanity Fair titled “The Conservative Coma.”

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It posited that the rise of Trump, and the death of McCain, a certain and now long-gone kind of Republican, meant that movement conservatism was now officially dormant. Principles and policies that conservatives had long cared — or at least bothered to argue — about were jettisoned to abide Trump’s momentary whims and personal grievances.

And it wondered aloud what would snap conservatism out of its coma and back to the forefront of Republican politics, so dominated during the Trump era by culture wars, division and destruction.

Well, lamentably, that very question is still being asked more than two years after Trump lost his bid for reelection and proved unequivocally to Republicans that he’s a drag on their brand.

As I’m all too quick to remind, Republicans lost the White House, House and Senate during Trump’s chaotic, corrosive and highly un-conservative single term, and yet the party is still clinging to his vestigial memory.

A number of midterm election candidates all over the country sought Trump’s endorsement and ran hard on his election denialism. Thankfully, many — but not all — lost.

The Republican National Committee just reelected Ronna McDaniel, one of Trump’s biggest boosters inside the GOP, who nonetheless steered the party into three embarrassing election-year losses.

Despite being the subject of several criminal investigations, Trump’s announced his reelection bid, and has surrogates like Sen. Lindsey Graham pressuring others not to challenge him. (So far, no one has.)

And polling still puts Trump on top. The latest Morning Consult poll has Trump beating his closest hypothetical GOP rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis, 48% to 31%.

Moreover, a new poll by The Bulwark and North Star Opinion Research shows a majority of Trump voters would choose him if he ran on a third ticket — effectively splitting the GOP vote and in all likelihood handing the election to the Democratic nominee.

The loyalty and rabidity of Trump’s voters is inarguably the biggest reason why Republicans won’t quit him. Because it’s not enough to leave Trump behind — they’d have to leave his voters too.

They represent a shrinking but still sizable chunk of the Republican base, and therefore are hard to ignore. On the other hand, as the base has cleansed itself of good conservatives like Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, the GOP’s gone from a big tent to an ever-condensing stew of right-wing fringe elements — QAnon and other conspiracy theorists, white supremacists, antisemites, pro-Putinites, Christian nationalists and deniers of all kinds.

It strikes me that these kinds of voters shouldn’t be hard to leave behind. But it’s exactly these kinds of voters that the GOP’s been courting and conforming to — at the expense of actual conservatism — for the past seven years. And now a good number of them are members of Congress, with constituents of their own.

So what does leaving these voters behind look like? Running elections on conservative fiscal, domestic and foreign policy, and not grievance politics, conspiracy theories, and culture wars. It means disavowing — unequivocally — rhetoric and instances of hate, even and especially when they come from inside the party. It means punishing, not rewarding liars, deniers and extremists in Congress with more power.

This won’t happen, of course, because importantly, it will also mean some Republicans will lose their elections. But that’s the sacrifice they might have to make if the party truly wants to move past Trump and Trumpism.

Call me skeptical, but until Republicans at every level of leadership are willing to not only leave Trump but these voters and their corrosive impulses behind, conservatism will remain in a coma, and the question of whether Trump is past, present or future will remain unanswered.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

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