Why the American Right Should Break from Trump and Trumpism

I remember discussing the prospect of a Trump Presidency with a business partner in 2015. We were at a boutique coffee shop, the kind of place with oversized pastries, funky tables, and mellow acoustic music. When I asked his opinion on Mr. Trump, he leaned back in his comfy chair and said he could not support Trump because of character issues.

From someone else, I might have responded with a comment comparing Trump’s character to “President WMD” George W. Bush. Or the Clintons. Or even Mitt Romney. But this was someone whose judgment I respected. His opinion came across as a cool assessment rather than a triggered reaction.

“What about disruptive innovation?” I replied, using the business lingo that was our shorthand at the time. “Don’t you think the establishment needs a shake-up to better serve Americans?”

He was not moved by my clichés or my logic. I somewhat notoriously went on to support Trump in 2016 and he didn’t. In my speech at the Deploraball, an Inauguration party I helped organize for Trump’s grassroots supporters, I outlined a vision for a new type of Republican.

Five-plus years later, I look back on the Trump era with mostly negative emotions. On the one hand, the American political establishment needed a wake-up call to listen to voices it had forgotten. Trump succeeded as a sort of wrecking ball and court jester. He forced necessary conversations and electoral reconfigurations.

But ultimately, Trump failed the country and his supporters. The competent billionaire businessman I had hoped for turned out to be terrible at managing personnel, ineffective at executing his own agenda, knee-capped by his own personal failings, and compromised by external influences. Supporters rightly point out that he faced historic levels of opposition. But Trump didn’t do himself any favors with his boorish violation of norms. And was he truly America First? I no longer think so.

By the 2020 election, I had lost passion for Trump and didn’t participate. At some point along the way, I started feeling a nagging sense of sadness when I saw flag-waving supporters. It felt like watching loved ones develop a gambling addiction. It was the heartbreak of false hope with little to show for it beyond rhetorical bluster and a tribal identity. Yet many of their grievances were real.

Today, when I talk to Trump supporters about the prospect of his nomination in 2024, many are quietly against it. There is a growing, if tacit, understanding that Republicans need to move on from Trump, even among those who’ve supported him. Yet there remains a cult-like hesitation to vocalize it. This is the man who more or less ensured Hilary Clinton will never be President, after all.

So let me say the quiet part out loud: Trump supporters need to move on from Trump. And from Trump-style politics.

Those rallying for Trump 2024 make two arguments. The first is that electing him would be a needle in the eye of the corrupt and failing uniparty establishment, allowing for a cathartic “revenge tour” second term. The second is that no one else rallies support and stands up to this establishment as effectively as Trump does, and so dropping him would be a step back. No one is better positioned to defeat a Democratic nominee in 2024, they point out citing polling data, not even DeSantis.

Each claim is true in some sense, but the logic doesn’t work. My response to the first claim: What do you gain from a “revenge Presidency?” Pissing off the establishment may be emotionally satisfying, but how does it make America great? How does it save America? It just seems juvenile and destructive. Where is the positive vision?

To the second argument: yes, Trump excels at galvanizing supporters. And he may be polling better than others right now. But do you see him leading the country to greatness at this point, much less gracefully managing decline? Do you see him leading supporters to a better place? In 2016 there was plausible hope for these things. Today I just don’t see it. Promoting Trump 2024 feels like playing a game of chicken with the nation’s future and the lives of his supporters. It feels reckless and desperate. And we can’t afford it.

Some may read this and think: “Good. America is beyond saving.” This, sadly, may be the central divide on the right today. Do you still have faith in the American project or have you given up on it? Do you seek reform or revolution?

The American Right faces a fork in the road. One path is what I call “the Middle Finger Path.” The Middle Finger Path is fueled by culture war issues that revolve around Trump or are derivative of his style of politics. This path feeds on outrage. It flirts with the rhetoric of civil war and national divorce, less out of malevolence than exasperation. While I sympathize with frustrations motivating this path, continuing down it is dangerous and unwise.

There is a second path, however distant it may feel. Let’s call this “the Build Path.” The Build Path still embraces disruptive innovation but recognizes the responsibility that comes with it — the responsibility to stick around and build something better. This is a path of deal-making and compromise, reform rather than revolution. The Build Path focuses on improving the future of America. It leads with policy substance. It seeks common cause and moral ground. It measures success not by “owning the libs” but by improving the lives of everyday Americans.

The Build Path demands a seat at the table and earns it. It recognizes that moderate Democrats are closer to MAGA policy positions than one might think. This route builds bridges instead of burning them. It seeks to leapfrog the stupidity of the current moment rather than fighting on Twitter.

Candidates embracing the Build Path would know better than to mirror Trump’s toxic rhetorical style. They would offer bolder, more meaningful policy solutions. They wouldn’t talk down to voters and indulge their falsehoods. I see flashes of this leadership in JD Vance, Blake Masters, Ron DeSantis, and Josh Hawley, but even these “smart MAGA” politicians are too mired in Trump’s style of politics. Without rising above the current moment and offering a grand, constructive vision that solve real problems, they risk extending the political and intellectual cul-de-sac of Trumpism rather than moving past it. This is the core leadership challenge I would encourage them to consider— not to Trumpify the GOP but to move it post-Trump, synthesizing its grievances into meaningful solutions.

Embracing the Build Path doesn’t mean surrender. It means more effective participation. Many of the issues and grievances that fueled Trump in 2016 remain. Immigration is a mess. The country still lacks basic sovereignty. Bold, forward-looking policies around healthcare, energy, and education remain to be seen. Middle Americans are still underserved and taken for granted by our government.

Many fear America is becoming a one-party system — California writ large. Some intellectual and cultural winds are moving in troubling directions. Covid brought historic challenges. All of this is situated in a geopolitical context with rising great power competition, influence from all directions, and a fear that America is turning into “woke empire.” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has snapped us out of a stupor, in a sense, by forcing us to confront our national interests and commitment to NATO.

I get the issues. America is flawed and off-track in many ways. But Trump supporters should not give up on the possibility of reform. And they should not give up on America, thus playing into the hands of adversaries. The Build Path is the better choice, even if it feels like a moon-shot.

I promise you, there is life beyond Trump, just as there is beyond Biden. We shouldn’t settle for the false dichotomy of one clownish gerontocracy versus another. A Trump-Biden contest in 2024 would pit a 78-year-old against an 82-year-old. The sooner Republicans make the break from Trump and his style of politics, the better off our politics will be, even if it feels like a setback in the short term.

I’m genuinely worried about the unity of our nation. Trump is not the sole cause of this, obviously, but it is clear to me now that Trump 2024 would be a grave mistake for the country. Those who supported him in 2016 and 2020 deserve better leadership. So do all Americans.

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Musings on media, technology, national security, and personal development.

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Jeff Giesea

Musings on media, technology, national security, and personal development.