In this installment of our weekly conversation, PF Whalen and Parker Beauregard of The Blue State Conservative discuss the potential field of new leaders within the Republican Party in the post-Trump era.
PF: I’m sure a lot of our readers will reject the idea that we’re even in “the post-Trump era.” Over 74 million people voted for Donald Trump in November, and he continues to have widespread support. But could Trump duplicate what only Grover Cleveland was able to accomplish by becoming the second person to be elected president in non-consecutive elections? I have serious doubts.
Trump will be 78-years old in 2024, the same age as a President Biden is now, and that issue is problematic. Additionally, as successful as Trump was during his term, he left office with an approval rating in the low-30s and his personal brand was severely damaged by the Capitol riots last month; rightly or wrongly. Could he pull off a Lazarus-like revival and come back to political life? Certainly, but that scenario appears highly unlikely. I think Trump can play a key role in the GOP moving forward, but both he and other leaders of the party must be careful in determining what that role is.
Regarding who fills the void left by Trump, there is one aspect that we can safely assume: that person (or persons) won’t be determined by their skin color or genitalia, unlike our friends in the Democratic Party. Whoever rises up to lead the Republican Party will get there due to his/her qualifications. Who has the best skill set, the most relevant experience, and the broadest appeal to voters? The answers to those questions will decide the party’s future. If it’s another white man, so be it, and if it’s a female or a minority, that’s fine as well. We need the best person for the job to step up, regardless of race or gender. There’s enough identity politics taking place with the Democrats, and Republicans must be sure to reject that strategy.
Parker: I realize you just mentioned that the conservative movement will eschew skin color and biological sex, but there’s a part of me that wants to fight fire with fire. We are going to suffer ad nauseum from the constant focus on Kamala’s first; Kamala Harris being the first mistress elected to the White House and the first everything else means absolutely nothing to me. However, it means everything to the left, and wouldn’t it be awesome to watch them eat their words if the conservative movement nominated a gay, transgender, immigrant non-binary female of multiple ethnicities as their president? They would be forced to eat their words about breaking glass ceilings, except that the rule is you are not black if you don’t vote Democrat (seriously, how did that not get him canceled?). In the view of the left, our candidate wouldn’t be a real gay, transgender, immigrant, non-binary female of multiple ethnicities. She would just be a conservative.
Still, it’s fun to muse. I assume Kamala will control the White House and run in 2024, and I would love to see an intelligent, articulate conservative woman go toe to toe with her. Female what? Their entire argument is that being black and female is enough to make Harris preeminently qualified for national leadership. Let’s toss a woman their way and watch them pretend being female isn’t enough anymore.
In the near term, there are a lot of potential leaders. In the Senate, Ted Cruz (R-TX) has really shone in his attack on Big Tech and understanding for all matters legal. Given that his name is being thrown about for censure, you know the left is worried. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) speaks honestly and forcefully, and when he isn’t printed in the New York Times, makes a lot of good points on the conservative circuit. The same goes for Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), who I still know less about, but can appreciate that he was the only Republican to vote against every Biden cabinet nominee. I think it’s safe to say that these three appreciate Trumpism and the true threat of the left; others like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), although they have done great things for the conservative cause, are appearing more and more swampy by the day.
PF: “Swampy,” I like it. Regarding Congress, I expect the current GOP leadership to stay in place for the near future, particularly in the Senate. McConnell is definitely a bureaucrat, but he’s clever and gets stuff done. I give him a lot of credit for getting a record number of judicial appointments through the confirmation process for President Trump. I’d prefer he was more conservative, but I think we need him. The same can be said for Graham and a few others. I do expect Cruz to step up and continue to be at least as vocal as he’s been the last four years and, like you, I’m very optimistic about Tom Cotton; he’s terrific. I’d also like to see Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) come back to prominence.
In the House of Representatives, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is similar to McConnell. He’s a little too moderate for my liking, but he’s sharp, pragmatic, and effective. Republicans have an excellent shot at winning back control of the House in 2022, and I would expect McCarthy to be elected Speaker of the House if they do. For me, the two rising stars for the GOP in the House are Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). Both are exceptionally intelligent and appear to be strong conservatives. I could see both of them stepping to the forefront, and potentially even challenge McCarthy.
Jordan is 56 years old and is already considered a leader. With Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) as the Whip, Jordan’s options are limited, but he will enjoy increased distinction, I believe. Stefanik is only 36 years old, and incredibly bright. The sky’s the limit with her. We should expect to see her heading up a House Committee at some point when the GOP regains control. She is outstanding, and she’s tenacious.
Regarding Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), I think her influence in the party will recede. I have no doubt that her vote in favor of impeaching Trump was necessary in her mind, but it was ill-advised. She could have asked for censure instead of siding with Democrats on impeachment, but she didn’t.
Parker: Is it “swampier” instead of “swampy”? Doesn’t matter, I guess. As we write this, Cheney somehow managed to retain her leadership position within the party by their secret-ballot vote. That essentially validates her and other in-name-only Republicans’ decision to side with Democrats. To her credit, she did vote to maintain MTG on committees. Nonetheless, it gets tired saying this: Donald Trump delivered so much good for this country, and especially for the Republicans in Washington who are so feckless at times. Cheney is simply ungrateful for his work in bolstering the party. Hopefully the voters in Wyoming respond with more force than her Congressional colleagues.
I expected you to name Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) in your rundown of representatives. He is another that has the resume and fight , but he oddly supported the narrative of Trump’s involvement in inciting a riot at the U.S. Capitol. He had as much upside as anyone heading into 2021; we will see where his story goes. One unquestionable force for the Rpeubllican party, and more importantly, conservatism, is Florida’s governor Ron De Santis. This guy is the real deal. I still struggle with the idea of him barely eking out a win over the cocaine-loving Andrew Gillum. Can you imagine Florida under this trainwreck? Even CNN cut him loose. CNN!
De Santis withstood the barrage of lies during Covid, and as a result both his state and his image came out stronger. He showed us the hypocrisy of New York’s Andrew Cuomo (whose own ship can’t sink fast enough) when there were travel restrictions going one way and not another, he then articulated the CDC’s own data about 99.998% survival rates for most people, and wisely kept the economy open. I traveled to Florida last May, and like others have noted when they traveled there, it felt like living in America again. This past week, he also discussed introducing legislation to curb Big Tech. He has outlined some fantastic restraints on the malicious, censoring totalitarians that have risen to power under American capitalism and reprehensibly facilitate the system’s own demise.
PF: Crenshaw is terrific, and there are even more including Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT) who is no spring chicken, but outspoken and promising.
The most fascinating aspect regarding the Republicans’ future is what happens in 2024. Who will be the nominee to run against Biden, or more likely Harris? In 2016, the Republican primaries were a free-for-all. Candidates like Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina were trending one day, and freefalling the next. I doubt many of those names will be recycled in three years, but Cruz, Rubio and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are distinct possibilities. All three could be formidable.
It seems more likely, however, that a fresh face will emerge, and we should consider those with experience governing states to be the most likely to succeed. Prior to Barack Obama, the last sitting member of Congress to be elected president was John F. Kennedy in 1960. Those with experience in the Executive Branch of government (whether it’s a state or federal government) have a more suitable skill set than someone coming from the Legislative Branch. Therefore, three names jump out as potential candidates: former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, and DeSantis, as you mentioned.
I also really like DeSantis, but of those three, Haley would have to be considered the early favorite in my opinion. In addition to having invaluable experience in foreign affairs having been Trump’s United Nations Ambassador, Haley is also extremely likeable and has a compelling personal story as the daughter of immigrants. If I had to bet right now, my money would be on Haley being the nominee.
But we shouldn’t discount former Vice-President Mike Pence either. He’s got the experience, and he was a fantastic Vice-President. During the Vice-Presidential debate on October 7th, Pence absolutely dismantled Kamala Harris. Pence lacks charisma, but he’s polished. He’s also got a terrific record to run on – Trump’s record – without a lot of the negatives that Trump carries with him. If Pence wants to run, he would have to be considered another favorite.
Parker: You wrote an article recently that detailed how Bush, McCain, Romney, and Trump were all despised. The American public was told it was all about Trump, but in truth the only distinction that matters is the R behind a candidates name. We endured so much bombast the last four years that a Pence ticket would be really compelling. The media focused on Trump’s outsized personality much more than his politics. Pence could cram that lie down the media’s throat by pointing out how he owns the fantastic Trump policy record without the tweets. They’d make a new angle to hate him, but it’d be an obvious trap. Pence could just ask the rhetorical question of: You supposedly hated Trump because of his ego and rhetoric; well, I am none of that, and he had a great policy record. So we’re good, right?
The media’s single biggest issue with Pence is his religiosity. All of this is equally dumb and obvious. Religious conservatives are portrayed as would-be theocrats, whereas religious leftists are upheld as virtuous. Just compare the media treatment of Justice Barrett to President Biden. Both are Catholic, but the only good Catholic is one that expands access to abortion. Got it. Romney’s Mormonism was an issue until he started marching with Black Lives Matter, but Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib can be raging anti-Semitics and get a pass. Hopefully the media’s facade has crumbled to the point where most voters see the double standard being applied to religious candidates.
You are giving Haley frontrunner status for 2024. Like I said, I think a female candidate provides some great optics and a hardstop to the Kamala “First Female President” Harris angle. Women lost their minds at Trump and are now nutting themselves at seeing Harris in the veep role. I would like them to eat their words when they have to find a compelling argument against voting for Haley. She’s a woman, so we should vote for her, right? It’s identical to my Pence scenario. Otherwise, without knowing the ins and outs of political jockeying, I am just a big Ted Cruz fan. We could lay claim to the first Hispanic president to boot and likely earn millions of much-needed Hispanic votes in the process. White men speaking of border security get shouted down as racist; it’d be awesome to see a Hispanic from Texas speak of the need for border protections.