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An era ends: The sad legacy of Donald Trump

Donald Trump is no longer president, but his impact will live on.

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President Donald Trump walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 in Washington. The President is traveling to Texas.

Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

Donald Trump is no longer president, but his impact will live on, both through his base of supporters and the expected Senate impeachment trial, which could keep him in the headlines for many days. We look at his legacy and the future of Trumpism.

For better or worse, Trump has been America’s dominant political figure for four years. What has been his impact on Utah politics, and will he continue to have influence?

Pignanelli: “We need to reset the conversation. Older white guys are some of the best people in the country. They know a trade, raised a family, and many started a business. They voted for Trump and we need their example to rebuild America.” — Van Jones, liberal CNN commentator  

Many years ago I revealed to my physician a weird circumstance in an otherwise normal bodily function. The doctor responded that it was a “blessing” and a warning. In response, I altered habits and remained healthy.

At the risk of causing some to choke, I submit the presidency of Donald Trump was, in some ways, a blessing disguised as a warning. Yes, the rhetoric and obnoxious tweets were painful. But he stripped the scabs off wounds that were infecting this nation. While millions of Americans (including me) enjoyed the benefits of cheaper consumer products, fellow citizens lost employment and found their advocate in a billionaire. His antics prompted needed discussions, and solutions, on race. As an immigration advocate, I despaired at Trump’s tactics, but realized he was enabled by a lack of leadership from both parties.

A record 74 million Americans voted for Trump in 2020. Many have legitimate concerns which must be addressed. Others foster unfortunate antagonisms (i.e. bigotry) which must be exorcised.

Utah continues unprecedented growth — beneficial for many but problematic for others. We have been blessed with a warning to leave no one behind.

Webb: Few politicians have been so loved and hated as Donald John Trump. He spoke for disaffected Americans, while disparaging and infuriating Democrats and progressives. He had an instinct for understanding the grievances of average citizens against the corporate elites, Big Tech, Hollywood, the media and the political establishment.

Unfortunately, his narcissistic personality and deeply flawed character overshadowed and eventually overwhelmed his perceptive instincts and significant policy achievements.

For mainstream conservatives like me, who voted twice for his policies, if not for him, the tragedy of Trump is opportunity lost. In many ways, he did govern like a real conservative, on such things as social issues, judicial selections, cutting taxes, reducing regulation, avoiding war, taking tough stances on China and Russia, championing realistic foreign policy, reducing the threat of foreign terrorism, making real progress in the Middle East, improving trade policies and treaties, and so forth.

His support actually grew in Utah over his first term. He won 58% of the vote in 2020, up from 45% in 2016. Nationwide, he got 74 million votes, higher than in 2016.

But his incessant tweeting, name-calling, exaggerations, bluster, refusing to accept reality, continual self-promotion and so forth diminished support among traditional Republicans and especially women. He sunk to an all-time low by refusing to accept the clear outcome of the election.

I don’t think the U.S. Senate should hold an impeachment trial because it will further divide the country. But I absolutely hope Trump will exit the spotlight and not run again.

The Republican Party is bitterly divided between the Trump base and more mainstream, traditional Republicans. Will the party come together, or is this split permanent? Will Utah Democrats take advantage?

Pignanelli: Both parties have internal dissension: Trumpistas versus mainstream Republicans, moderate Democrats versus progressives. There are elements of Trumpism offensive and attractive to both and how they structure their ideology and outreach will determine the winner. A state party that is conducive to the dynamics of Utah (i.e. flexible immigration, more efficient government, debt concern, economic development, protections of human rights, realistic dealing with China, public safety, etc.) will prevail.

Webb: Uniting the GOP will be extremely difficult, especially for the next presidential election. The Trump base will seek a Trump-like candidate, or they will just drop out and not vote. Mainstream Republicans will not vote for a Trump clone, giving Presiddent Joe Biden or another Democrat a 2024 win. 

In Utah, mainstream candidates can still win, as has been demonstrated by Gov. Spencer Cox. But the Trump faction will remain a force to reckon with. 

What will be Trump’s legacy in Utah and the nation? 

Pignanelli: Our descendants will look back on these years as a time of enormous social upheaval, technological advancement and political realignment. They will admire our endurance of a pandemic, protests and transforming economy. We will be respected for absorbing the lessons of a tumultuous presidency through helping the struggling, advancing racial equality and protecting our treasured institutions.    

Webb: For me, Trump will be a tragic figure who squandered an historic opportunity. I don’t feel bad for him, because he’s to blame for his own implosion. But I feel bad for the millions of solid, hard-working, conservative, average citizens who saw him as a leader who would fight for traditional values and oppose the elitists pushing the country to the left.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email: frankp@xmission.com.