Understanding the roots of Trumpism
People who are not seen as "fighters" will never be taken seriously by the Trumpian Right.
David French is correct that Donald Trump encouraged and highlighted an attitude in the Republican Party. Trumpism is not a specific ideology, it is an attitude: A willingness to be more combative, fight back and attack the Left. This is why attempts to define "Trumpism" have failed, and Trump was pretty standard in large swaths of policy: Tax cuts, deregulation, anti-abortion, and so forth. More importantly, French recognizes that the yearning for a combative nominee pre-existed Trump by years:
But even then, the message from much of the grassroots was clear. Hit harder. No, hit even harder. Lack of aggression was perceived as lack of effort, a lack of a will to win.
But what French does not understand is that the Republican establishment's lack of will to fight back was the driving force behind the drive among Republican voters in 2016 to nominate Trump in the first place. (As a reminder, I did not vote for Trump in 2016, in the primary or the general election.) The Republican establishment's lack of will to fight is as responsible for the rise of Trump as Trump's voters were. This includes Mitt Romney, and his muted attacks on Barack Obama in 2012.
Much of the desire to "fight back" and "hit harder" comes from the hatred directed at even average people from the radical Left. French quotes Dan Bongino, who says that Leftists "wish death on me and everyone else from COVID.” French describes this as "absurd rhetoric. Just absurd." But the fact is that there are Leftists who literally do celebrate the deaths of conservatives who question the COVID-19 vaccines. This is not merely the domain of anonymous online trolls, but even prominent journalists. Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times wrote a column that said "mocking anti-vaxxers' deaths is ghoulish, yes — but necessary." He proudly advertised his column on Twitter.
The point is this: If we are going move the party away from the excesses of Trumpism, then we have to recognize that we cannot go back to the way things used to be. We have to fight back, and we do have to "hit harder." Trump's overly combative style certainly is problematic, and Trump largely rage-Tweeted himself into losing the 2020 election. But the Republican base will never go back to the pre-Trump status quo.
I am not happy with much of the rhetoric that comes from the Right these days. The Right, in general, needs to be a bit more restrained and avoid overheated rhetoric that will convince no one but the most hard-core in the base. But the fact is that people who are not seen as "fighters" will never be taken seriously by the Trumpian Right. You have to demonstrate your willingness to throw a punch, rhetorically speaking, before anyone on the Trumpian Right will listen to your calls for more restrained rhetoric. And above all else, you have to stop clutching your pearls over stupid jokes.
We can and should move away from Trumpism and the urge to be nasty for its own sake. But moving away from Trumpism will not be a return to the old status quo, especially with how incredibly nasty the Left has been. Attacks can be more focused, more policy oriented and a lot less personal, but the days where the Republican base will put up with a lack of negativity are over.