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CLARENCE PAGE: What happens to Trumpism after Trump? Auditions are underway

As a liberal about most political matters, I am not delighted that President Donald Trump’s nomination of conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett may be his most durable legacy.

But like the rapidly approaching Election Day, it gives new energy to an old question: After Trump, what happens to “Trumpism”?

The replacement of 87-year-old liberal giant Ruth Bader Ginsburg with 48-year-old Barrett is expected to bring a new 6-3 conservative majority that could endure for at least a couple of generations. Elections, as both political sides are muttering, do have consequences.

Whether he loses this election or not, it’s not too early to contemplate what happens to the maverick movement he put together and surprisingly rode into the White House.

The term “Trumpism,” as far as I can tell, rose up as a joke. Trump proudly presented himself as ideology-free, unencumbered by the factions and labels usually offered in conventional parties and political science books.

As I have written before, I grew up in “Trump Country,” a Southern Ohio factory town where steel and paper mill jobs helped my family and me pay for my college tuition. Almost all of those jobs have disappeared in ensuing decades.

Most Trump voters I have known — and polling data I have examined — tell me they were won over a lot less by bigotry and sexism than by the sense that he simply was there, speaking to their despair and resentments that both major political parties had failed to acknowledge or address.

Which brings me back to Trumpism. The term is misleading because it implies an ideology supposedly held by a man who boldly shuns ideologies. Yet, since recent Gallup polls, among others, still show about 90 percent approval of Trump among Republicans and about 36 percent among independents, ambitious Republicans already are jockeying for position to take his place.

Some of those who are seeking the relative sanity of the Grand Old Party are gravitating toward moderates such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska or Gov. Larry Hogan, in predominantly Democratic Maryland.

But closer to Trumpian conservatism in these polarized times, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, may be better positioned for the near term.

Maybe. But after watching Trump bluster his way from outsider to victory in the 2016 primaries, I would not be surprised to see another renegade outsider such as Fox News’ Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity rise from the legions of ambitious stars of right-wing political showbiz.

Politics is full of copycats, it has been said, especially when a seasoned rule-breaker such as Trump makes campaigning look easy. But a cautionary note: It’s not that easy. This time the party establishment won’t be as quick to underestimate their rising outsiders’ chances.

Contact Clarence Page via email at cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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