Republicans Consider Lasting Impression Of Trump On Their Party
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is giving his adopted party a lot to think about. He has offered radically different approaches to trade, immigration, the size of government and national defense. Now Republicans are debating whether, win or lose, Donald Trump has permanently altered their party's DNA. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Is Donald Trump unique, taking over the Republican Party only because he's a billionaire reality TV celebrity who knew better than anyone how to dominate the media? Or is there such a thing as Trumpism that will live on regardless of whether Trump himself becomes president? Rick Wilson is a Never Trumper, and he says Trump is one of a kind, a black swan event. As evidence, Wilson points to Senator Marco Rubio's primary election today in Florida.
RICK WILSON: A guy named Carlos Beruff, a multi-multimillionaire developer who ran as a Trump mini-me - you know, the whole tough guy swagger, build the wall, ship them home, that whole act - Marco Rubio is going to hand him his head today by a margin of probably 40 or 50 points. You know, that's a good case study, a good experiment that without Donald Trump, Trumpism falls flat. Without the showmanship, the TV star personality, Trumpism a dead letter.
LIASSON: But other Republicans say Trump has tapped into something very real in the GOP that's not going away anytime soon. Gary Bauer is a conservative activist and a Trump supporter. He says rather than making the Republican Party different, Trump is reflecting a Republican Party that's already changed.
GARY BAUER: The establishment in Washington, in my view, has increasingly grown out of touch about where it was getting its votes from. Donald Trump, I think, understood where our votes were coming from. And I'm still fairly optimistic he's going to win. But whatever happens, I think it's going to be very hard for the Republican Party to go back to the agenda that it had before.
LIASSON: That agenda, Bauer says, didn't care much about preserving Social Security or keeping young people out of endless foreign wars. It was an agenda, says Bauer, that left out the working class, who were the base of the Republican Party. Laura Ingraham, radio talk show host and Trump supporter, says the GOP will never be the same again.
LAURA INGRAHAM: I see the Republican Party as a conservative party that has a stronger populist strain than it's had since the Bushes. That's what I see. And I think that agenda will appeal to a broader range of Americans as time goes on.
LIASSON: Whether Trump wins or loses, Ingraham says, the GOP will never again be the party of entitlement reform, open borders, nation-building and big trade deals. But in order for this new Trumpist agenda to appeal to a broad range of Americans it has to appeal to young people, minorities and suburban women, all groups that Trump himself has alienated with his raw appeals to white identity politics. Conservative Ben Domenech is the founder and publisher of The Federalist.
BEN DOMENECH: The question for me is if you break Trumpism away from some of the toxic comments about immigrants, some of the race-baiting comments, at least when it comes to birtherism - if you break it away from that, does it still have the same appeal? And I think that there's going to be a lot of Republicans, particularly ones with ambitions on the presidency themselves, who try to test that out and figure it out.
LIASSON: Just like Trump himself has tried to do in the last two weeks, these future Republican candidates will try to make Trumpism more broadly acceptable without alienating the voters Trump has activated because the Republican Party also needs them to win. So the conversation about just what Trump and Trumpism means for the GOP has begun and, true to form, Trump has made this discussion potentially perilous for his party because he has said the only way he can lose is if the election is stolen from him. And that has Republicans like former Congressman Vin Weber really worried.
VIN WEBER: If he's already setting up the storyline after the election to be one of a stolen or rigged election, then there's not any analysis that can be used - could shed light on where the Republican Party ought to go because his supporters will say simply, we don't need to make any changes. We just need to get rid of those elements that so-called stole the election.
LIASSON: If Trump wins, he will remake the Republican Party in his own unconventional image. If he loses, Trump has already guaranteed the debate inside the GOP will be complicated and very difficult. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.