Studio portrait of Sid Salter. (photo by Beth Wynn / © Mississippi State University)

By: Sid Salter

At noon today with the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, Democrats will control the White House, the U.S. House of Representatives and narrowly the U.S. Senate.

That reality ends the embattled tenure of outgoing GOP President Donald Trump, the conclusion at least for now of a meteoric if not unlikely rise to power by a flamboyant billionaire New York City real estate developer who captivated rural voters in the South and the Midwest.

Mississippi is a prime example of the fierce political loyalty Trump engendered in his supporters. In a state with a 38 percent Black population, state voters gave Trump 57.8 percent of the state’s 2016 vote for president and 57.6 percent in the 2020 presidential election.

The 2020 election cycle saw Trump lose the White House and preside over the loss of a GOP Senate majority. But those losses came in an election that saw Trump get over 72 million votes – the second-largest vote total in U.S. history. The largest presidential vote total in history was cast in the same election as 78 million voters showed up to vote Biden in and Trump out of office.

Some 60 post-election legal challenges – including one to the U.S. Supreme Court to which Trump appointed one-third of the justices – failed. But still claims of a “stolen” election persist and are fomented almost hourly by President Trump.

Not even the violent, disgraceful insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on the day the nation’s electoral vote was certified quelled that narrative. Democrats in the House predictably impeached Trump and Republican leaders in the Senate refused to take the impeachment matter up until well after Trump is no longer in office.

With President Biden inaugurated at noon today, the nation looks to move forward in the face of a growing global pandemic and the economic uncertainties it has wrought. The Democratic Party has their own issues, with Biden perceived as “not progressive enough” by the far left in his own party. Governing will be a challenge for Biden both from GOP opposition and Democratic purity politics.

But the Republican Party is at a broader crossroads. What will be the path forward be for the party of Lincoln? Shortly after the election, the Republican National Committee met and made no substantial changes in their party’s leadership.

Will the GOP maintain its loyalty to Trump and Trumpism, or will new leaders and new thinking emerge? Will Trump continue to be a force of nature in Republican politics, granting thumbs up or down in contested GOP primaries?

Or will the GOP seek to redefine itself based on more bedrock party principles of a smaller central government, less taxes, free markets, and a strong national defense strategy with less isolationism. Will the party pivot from xenophobia in national immigration policy?

What about the evangelical wing of the GOP, a group that seemed to grant Trump a pass for most of his time on the presidential stage?

And what of “conservative” fiscal policy? The Trump White House tenure has seen a $7.8 trillion increase in the national debt. To be sure, President Barack Obama grew the national debt by over $9 trillion, but the Trump record is substantial for a Republican.

Trump endured a global pandemic while Obama endured a global economic recession.

In Mississippi, Republicans remain firmly in power facing a state Democratic Party with little demonstrable state-level organization or resources. Two-time Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Mike Espy attracted huge campaign war chests against Sen. Cindy Hyde=Smith and still was defeated soundly in 2018 and again by a wider margin in 2020.

In 2019, Republican Tate Reeves turned back the challenge of one of the state’s most formidable Democrats in Jim Hood. Reeves won by about 5 percent of the vote. All eight statewide Mississippi officials are Republicans, as are both houses of the Mississippi Legislature.

Nationally, Republicans face a growing identity crisis. In the post-Trump era, they must redefine who the are, what they believe, and who is to be the national face of the party while in “loyal opposition” to the Democrats in power.

Against that backdrop, the Trump shadow over the GOP’s future has yet to be accurately measured.