Donald Trump’s presence in 2016 was heralded as a fundamental shock to the system, as a new way for the Republican Party, as a final nail in the coffin of zombie Reagan-era public policy pushed by the billionaire and think tank class in Washington. 

As important as Trump has been for showing that there is another way forward for Republicans, it is becoming clearer by the day that many mainstream Republican lawmakers have not really changed since Trump’s election. That is both a reflection upon their own cluelessness, but it also points to a central failure of the Trump project to the extent that it even exists. If Trump leaves office in January, he’ll leave Washington both irrevocably different but also the same in too many ways.

For example, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has shown himself to be a pure economic libertarian in the Senate, even though he represents a state that voted Republican for the first time since Ronald Reagan when it went for Trump in 2016; explicitly because of Trump’s pro-worker, anti-China message.  

And yet, in a Friday interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Johnson backed outsourcing saying “to me it makes no sense for American workers to produce high-labor-content products. let the billions of people around the world do that and provide us these goods — high quality, dirt cheap.” adding “that to me is economically efficient. Unfortunately, we’re probably going to retrench from that, that type of policy, and I don’t see how it’s going to particularly work.”

This is from a man who represents a state which, according to the Economic Policy Institute, has lost 90,000 manufacturing jobs since 2001 because of our trade deficit with China. Johnson’s comments can be explained by an ideological commitment to the market fundamentalism that billionaires want congressional legislators committed too. Beyond the morality or sense of it, this is not going to work for him politically. 

Johnson currently maintains only a 32% approval rating in his home state of Wisconsin according to a recent Marquette University poll. Mostly because he supports outsourcing manufacturing jobs to China, and is one of the chief opponents of spending more money during this economic crisis. He’s openly bucked the White House’s demands on spending. and there’s very little question in my mind that with the realignment of the parties he’s a dead man in the next election. 

Johnson has to know that, but he and all the other mainstream Republicans don’t seem to care. The path that the post-trump GOP is marching towards is defined by becoming a permanent minority party of cultural grievance solely committed to obstruction. When it comes to actually anything to actually redress cultural grievance or improve the lives of the voters who back them, they’ll demur citing deficit problems or claim allegiance to some ideology that swears off the idea of the government doing anything for you and your life. 

To the extent a post-Trump GOP will do anything, it will mirror Ted Cruz’s conduct in Washington during the Tea Party years. Mounting pointless filibusters and obstructing the business of the government so they can pretend for their constituents that they’re standing up to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris when they’re really not doing anything. It bears repeating here, Donald Trump won because the rock solid free market libertarian ideology at the heart of the mainstream GOP is not desired by the vast majority of Republican voters or Americans writ large. 

The greatest political opportunity of the century will remain out there waiting to be seized upon, but if a Republican is to seize it, I highly doubt they will emerge from this morass of a fight that is likely to come in the next two years. Once again, America will return to a 2012 dynamic where you have a neoliberal Democrat in the White House surrounded by woke idealogues and the only opposition he’ll find in congress is not to any of his social agenda, but to his spending one

Meanwhile, we’re on our way to expanding the permanent underclass of American society with 30 million Americans on the unemployment rolls and accelerating permanent job losses. The damage from this depression will reverberate through our lives for the next decade or more, and many GOP Senators will be still shouting about big government as we get closer to the abyss. 

Saagar Enjeti
Saagar Enjeti is co-host of The Realignment Podcast and Breaking Points.
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