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In a recent column Peggy Noonan made the intriguing point that if Republican voters choose “Mr. Trump in 2024 it will mean it [the Republican Party] has changed its essential nature and meaning, and that it is split in a way that can’t be resolved by time.” As Noonan sees it, the Republican Party will be a past tense entity assuming such a scenario materializes.

Noonan’s column was excellent, and at first glance hard to argue with. Donald Trump is not a traditional Republican, and if he’s chosen a third time it would be easy to conclude that the Republican Party of old is no more. But given a second glance, the outcome sketched by Noonan is harder to agree with.

While Trump’s rhetoric before his election in 2016 was neither Republican nor libertarian, consider his policies. Though the size of the tax cuts he signed into law has long been vastly overstated by supply-side happy talking pundits (all too many voters experienced large tax increases for having had the temerity to live in a blue state), the blame lies with a Republican-led House of Representatives that’s never believed its own tax-cutting rhetoric, only for Paul Ryan et al to put tax cuts on Trump’s desk that weren’t really tax cuts. In other words, it’s no reach to suggest Trump would have signed a real - and large - tax cut into law if only the GOP had given him one. FreedomWorks president Adam Brandon adds that Trump would have also signed a repeal of Obamacare on day one had a scared of its own shadow GOP handed him a bill repealing it.

From there, it’s useful to point out that Trump signed the First Step Act in 2018 meant to get those imprisoned for drug offenses out of prison. At least rhetorically, Trump wisely disdained a lot of the foreign adventurism that had come to define the GOP, particularly under George W. Bush. On the matter of bedroom issues, the head of Log Cabin Republicans supported Trump for his administration’s efforts to “decriminalize homosexuality globally.” Regarding regulations, for every new one introduced during the Trump years, something like 20 were repealed or allowed to lapse. Federal judicial appointments were largely outsourced by the Trump administration to the Federalist Society, at which point it’s worth noting that a not insignificant number of Cato, Reason, and Competitive Enterprise Institute types could be found in high positions inside the Trump administration.

Considering the above-mentioned policies and/or stances, it’s worth asking what small l libertarians would have said or felt if a President Rand Paul had overseen them. The speculation here is that they would have been mostly cheerful, and on the matter of personnel, they would have been thrilled to finally see so many from their world in senior positions.

To be clear, there are obvious areas of pushback to the above speculation. Think Trump’s stances on trade, immigration, government spending, and the lockdowns related to the coronavirus. About the first three, Trump’s rhetoric was abhorrent and wrong. At the same time, it’s useful to point out that every U.S. president in modern times (Democrat or Republican) had very real immigration, trade policy, and spending blemishes; the only difference with Trump being that he saw fit to brag where others in his position have historically been sheepish.   

As for his panic abouot the coronavirus, his subsequent support of lockdowns, and worst of all, Trump’s signing of a $2.9 trillion Cares Act that subsidized those lockdowns across the country: unspeakable. Worse for Trump, it arguably lost him the White House. In other words, when Trump most needed to be obstreperous Donald Trump, he instead panicked.

Yet despite Trump’s various errors, including errors that deprived him of a second presidential term, there’s an argument that Republicans are for Trump, not Trumpism; meaning, Republican voters are still Republican voters. Consider Trump’s lack of coattails, or better yet, the lousy electoral track record of those whom he’s endorsed, or those who imitate him. The latter tells us Republican voters like Trump, but not those who aim to be Trump in style or ideology. Which is something to think about.

It’s worth thinking about as a speculation about the true nature of the Republican electorate. The bet here is that they still largely believe in limited government, and simply feel a polarizing figure who loves fights with Democrats and Republicans is the best way to achieve that outcome. Figure that government grows no matter the person in office, but Trump, seemingly for being Trump, presided over the very policy-sapping division that Republicans desire.

Every so often pundits see fit to write obituaries for people, Parties, movements, and so much else. The bet here is that the Republican Party will well outlast a person its base has taken a near-term shine to with limited government well in mind. 

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Vice President at FreedomWorks, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors (www.appliedfinance.com). His latest book is The Money Confusion: How Illiteracy About Currencies and Inflation Sets the Stage For the Crypto Revolution.

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