During the 2016 Republican primaries, then-candidate Donald Trump won over the conservative electorate by railing against the failure of establishment Republicans. Trump attacked other Republican candidates for what he saw as selling out to corporate donors and failing to truly represent the interests of their constituency. He specifically went after his Republican colleagues for their failures to put “America First” in regard to foreign and trade policy. While Trump tried to distance himself from other Republicans during the primary, it was a much different story following his election to the presidency. With slight exceptions, such as some Republicans opposing Trump’s declaration of a state of emergency in order to secure border funding, Trump and the Republican party were largely unified when it came to most policy issues during his term. However, following Trump’s loss to Joe Biden, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Georgia senate race debacle, it would appear as though the state of conservative politics is now more resemblant of 2016.
Going into the 2020 election, Trump gave Mitch McConnell an endorsement for his Senate race against Amy McGrath, showing unity among Republicans. However, on Feb. 16, Trump issued a fiery condemnation against McConnell. The GOP’s loss of both the Senate and the presidency has eliminated the sense of complacency held by many Republicans during Trump’s time in office. Rather than continuing to work with his fellow Republican, Trump slammed McConnell as being committed to “business as usual” and “status quo policies.” Trump went on to refer to McConnell as having a “Beltway First agenda,” implying he is putting the interests of Washington D.C. and those in power over those of the American people. For example, McConnell was critical of Trump’s trade war against China and unwilling to support Trump’s call to bring home troops from the Middle East. It will be these issues of trade, foreign policy and of course immigration that will draw the line between more populist, “Trumpian” conservatives and establishment conservatives like McConnell.
Although Trump is no longer in office, he still remains exceedingly popular among the Republican base. His endorsements will undoubtedly play a large role in the 2022 election. Just as 2018 saw the election of a host of anti-establishment leftist candidates such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 2022 election may see a similar phenomenon on the right. Only time will tell whether the Republican party of the future will continue to be dominated by old guard neoconservatives or replaced by more populist, “America First” candidates looking to follow in Trump’s footsteps.