What will Republicans look like after Trump?

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With President Donald Trump now clearly behind in the polls, there's been a wave of speculation about what the Republican Party might look like after losing the election. Probably the best thing to say about this is that it's massively premature: Trump could well narrowly win a second term, or former Vice President Joe Biden could get more than 400 electoral votes — or anything could happen between those two possibilities. And even if the president loses, presumably the party's reaction would differ depending on the margin of defeat and other variables. 

But I'll foolishly play along a little bit. National Journal's Josh Kraushaar has a nice item summarizing the speculation and adding some of his own. Kraushaar comes down in the middle — he suspects "the most likely scenario is that an out-of-power Trump will still be viewed favorably by most Republicans, but will no longer be the political force that can handpick primary winners and dictate the party's legislative strategy." Plausible! But so is George Will's guess that the day after the election Republicans will all abandon Trump and claim they never supported him in the first place. And so is speculation that Trump could still run for and win the nomination in 2024 if he loses in November. 

The thing is, I don't think it has much to do with Trump after all. Kraushaar says that Trump will still be active "on Twitter and beyond," but it's the beyond that really matters here — specifically, whether Republican-aligned media will still treat him as the leader of the party. I'm fairly sure that most Republican politicians will be happy to see him gone, and the same is true of almost all of the party's campaign and governing professionals. But of course if it were up to them, Trump wouldn't have come anywhere close to the nomination in 2016.

The truth is that Republican-aligned media outlets have a great deal of influence within the party, and if they choose to treat Trump as the Rightful President throughout a Biden administration then there's not much that Republican politicians and other party actors can do about it. 

That's a big problem. Kraushaar says that Republicans are "not suicidal" and therefore will evolve as needed in order to win elections. Politicians, campaign and governing professionals, and most party-aligned interest groups certainly have strong incentives to try to do so. But Fox News, talk radio shows, and the rest of the conservative marketplace may be better off if Democrats are in the White House. That's not to say that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity actively want Republicans to lose or would try to make that happen. Only that incentives are important, and when they don't point in the correct direction people's behavior tends to follow.

What this means for Trump's influence post-presidency is unclear. I have no idea how Republican-aligned media outlets will judge their own markets: Is it better to stick with the proven product, or to start rolling out new ones? What I do know is that election results are always easy to explain away, and if it's in their interests to stick with Trump, talk-show hosts will be able to convince themselves that a Biden victory was despite Trump, not because of him. 

1. Must-read from Lara Putnam, Erica Chenoweth and Jeremy Pressman at the Monkey Cage on the protests

2. Also at the Monkey Cage: Sarah Binder on why passing police reform in Congress won't be easy.

3. Bloomberg's Sarah Holder on Camden, New Jersey, and police reform

4. Kevin Drum on why Republicans have some thinking to do. One point I'd dispute: Trump didn't win the 2016 nomination in a landslide; he barely had enough delegates to win. 

5. Heather Long explains what's misleading and what's correct in Friday's unemployment numbers. Short version: The official unemployment rate understates reality; so did the April numbers, and by more. So yes indeed unemployment fell in May, and there's no conspiracy to fudge the numbers. Just a lot of good government bureaucrats trying to get the facts out as best they can when the situation is off any scale they've ever dealt with. 

6. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Justin Fox on the jobs report and the state of the economy.

7. Ezra Klein talks with Ta-Nehisi Coates.

8. Jamelle Bouie on police riots.

9. And Abdallah Fayyad on Washington, D.C., and the protests. I think this is mostly correct, except that the Roman architecture in the city isn't a tribute to empire, but to the Roman Republic, which 18th-century American revolutionaries were obsessed with. And Lincoln's Greek temple refers to Athenian democracy, just as Lincoln and his contemporaries saw a shift from Rome to Athens as their model for what they came to call democracy. In both centuries, what they were talking about was rule by the people.

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