Former President Donald Trump is out of the White House, but Trumpism still dominates the Republican Party.
His stricter tack on trade and immigration and his America First agenda now stand as the gold standard for Republican candidates, GOP officials say.
The path for the out-of-power Republican Party, they say, is not a return to the traditional GOP establishment but instead a doubling down on Mr. Trump‘s version of conservatism.
“We don’t want a McCain or a Romney that is not going to push back. We tried that and we lost miserably,” said Jonathan Martin, the chairman of the Republican Party in Lee County, Florida.
Mr. Trump‘s hold on Republican voters also makes his talk of forming a third party — what he’s reportedly calling the Patriot Party — a real threat to the GOP if he is serious.
Rick Manning, president of the conservative Americans for Limited Government, said a Trump exodus would hollow out the GOP.
“They would have big donors. They just wouldn’t have any people,” Mr. Manning said.
Mr. Trump remade the Republican Party by bringing in blue-collar voters who traditionally sided with Democrats and rural or working-class voters who previously stayed on the political sidelines, an electorate he dubbed “forgotten Americans.”
The party’s Never Trump wing, however, is prepared to jettison Mr. Trump‘s agenda and his supporters.
Former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, an establishment Republican who sparred often with Mr. Trump, said the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol underscored the ill effects of Mr. Trump‘s leadership.
He said the pro-Trump mob’s violent attack on Congress should be a wake-up call for the party.
“If it accelerates the move from Trumpism, then that’s good for Republicans. We’ve got to get back to principles that have animated the party for generations,” said Mr. Flake, who attended President Biden’s inauguration.
He is a minority voice in the party.
Recent polls show Mr. Trump‘s job approval rating from Republican voters remained strong after the deadly Jan. 6 attack and his subsequent House impeachment for inciting the riot. Nearly 9 in 10 Republicans gave Mr. Trump a thumbs up, according to a recent NBC News survey.
Michael Whatley, chairman of the North Carolina GOP, said the party needs to turn “Trump voters” into Republican Party voters.
“We need to make sure they stay with us,” he said.
Republican Party officials said they plan to emphasize two key issues: election integrity and Big Tech censorship.
The party also must build upon the America First platform that incorporates traditional conservative values, GOP officials said.
“Republicans are strongly supportive of an American First agenda. We support law enforcement. We support national security. We support tax cuts. We support life. We support the Second Amendment. None of that changes,” Mr. Whatley said.