Is this the face of the post-Trump Republican Party?

Whether in 2020 or 2024, President Donald Trump will no longer be the President and another member of the Republican Party will be next in line. Who will it be? Chris Cillizza goes through the most likely heirs to Trump's political legacy.

Posted: Jul 7, 2020 10:51 PM
Updated: Jul 7, 2020 10:51 PM

No matter what happens this fall, the Republican presidential nomination will be open in 2024.

Which means that even before we find out whether President Donald Trump will be finishing up his second term or Joe Biden will be ending his first, the jockeying for what the post-Trump Republican Party will look like has already begun. (Worth noting: If Trump loses in 2020, there is a non-zero chance he runs again in 2024.)

And Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is one of the earliest movers in that early fight to be the new (or next) face of the GOP.

"After this November election is over, regardless of who wins, there are a large majority of Americans who are completely convinced our political system is fundamentally broken, and they're going to be looking for something different," Hogan told The New York Times in advance of the release of a memoir later this month about his time as a Republican governor in one of the most Democratic states on the country and his battle against cancer while in office. "We have an election coming up -- we'll see what happens there -- but I've been leading the nation's governors through one of the biggest crises in our lifetime."

It's not terribly surprising that Hogan is making sure that he's deeply involved in the conversation about where the Republican Party goes post-Trump. The Maryland governor actively considered a primary challenge to Trump in 2020 before, smartly, deciding against it. (Whatever you think of Trump, beating him in a Republican primary at this moment is impossible.) And he has remained a consistent critic of Trump's leadership style and governance-by-tweet. "His entire administration is telling everyone to take it seriously while he tells everybody to not take it seriously," Hogan told the Times of Trump's response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

But if Hogan's interest in what's next for the party isn't a shock, it is a test. A test, specifically, of whether an anti-Trump lane exists -- or will exist -- in a party that has repeatedly put aside its past beliefs in order to declare fealty to a man who wasn't a Republican up until a few years before he decided to run for president.

Looking at the current state of the party, there's scant evidence that someone with Hogan's profile -- a moderate focused far more on results than ideology, who has been willing to speak out against Trump -- would have much of a chance of winning anything. Former Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona was no moderate (he had one of the most conservative voting records during his time in the House and Senate) but he was still driven out of office by Trump after writing a book critical of the President and the broader GOP. Michigan Rep. Justin Amash left the Republican Party -- with a major assist from Trump -- after he publicly declared his support for Trump's impeachment. Amash, like Flake, was one of the most conservative members of Congress by voting record.

To date, the only successful attempt to create a political brand within the GOP built, at least in part, on resistance to Trump is Utah Sen. Mitt Romney. But Romney was a) already a national figure before coming to the Senate in 2018 and b) represents a state that has long been deeply suspicious of Trump's brand of Republicanism.

Now, circumstances change. If, say, Trump not only loses his bid for a second term this fall but also plays a role in Republicans relinquishing their Senate majority and falling further into the minority in the House -- all of which is decidedly possible at the moment -- then the desire for an anti-Trump or some sort of post-Trump figure may well be higher. Maybe significantly so.

Hogan's flirtation with the possibility of a national bid down the line is a bet that whether or not that GOP doomsday scenario comes to pass this fall, there will be room for someone like him, who wants to move the party beyond Donald Trump. That even beyond the "Never Trumpers," which never amounted to enough people to matter within the modern-day Trump GOP, there will be a sizable contingent of Republicans who want a clean break from the Trump years.

It's an intriguing bet. Because what's become abundantly clear over the past year or two is that there will be a whole lot of competition within the Republican Party to be the next Donald Trump come 2024. Vice President Mike Pence will be in that mix, as will Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) -- not to mention the possibility that Donald Trump Jr. or Ivanka Trump signals interest in continuing their father's political legacy.

The "next Trump" lane, in short, is going to get very, very crowded very, very quickly. But Hogan is, at the moment, the only potential future face of the GOP that is fishing in the anti-Trump waters. (Florida Sen. Marco Rubio could try to be in that space, too, although his general support for Trump over the past three years will complicate that effort.)

Of course, for Hogan's bet to pay off, there needs to be an anti-Trump lane within the GOP's 2024 nomination fight. And at the moment, there isn't. But the best politicians are the ones who see where their party and the country is headed (Bill Clinton in 1992, Barack Obama in 2008) before everyone else. Maybe Hogan is that guy.

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