The 30 minutes that revealed the fight for the Republican Party’s future

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In the space of 30 minutes at the Republican National Convention on Monday night, Donald Trump Jr., the eldest son of the current President, and Tim Scott, the first African American Republican elected to the Senate from South Carolina, presented radically different views of what it means to be a Republican and a conservative in this American moment.

In doing so, Scott offered up the stark choice the Republican Party will face either in 2021 or 2024: What does the post-Trump GOP look like, sound like and focus on?

Trump Jr. spoke first at the RNC, and, as has become his trademark, offered up a muscular defense of his father’s policies while sneeringly deriding those who oppose him.

“Beijing Biden is so weak on China that the intelligence community recently assessed that the Chinese Communist Party favors Biden,” said Don Jr. at one point. He called the former vice president the “Loch Ness Monster of the Swamp.” He said “the Left’s trying to ‘cancel’ all of those founders,” and are now “coming for our freedom of speech and want to bully us into submission.”

The Republican convention just proved this scary fact about the GOP

Trump Jr. leavened the savaging of his father’s political opponents with a sort of Joel Osteen-like aspirational promise of future prosperity and perfection — as long as voters re-elect Donald Trump. “Imagine the life you want to have — one with a great job, a beautiful home, and a perfect family,” said Trump Jr. “You can have it. … Imagine a world where the evils of communism and radical Islamic terrorism are not given a chance to spread — where heroes are celebrated and the good guys win. You can have it.”

The message from DJTJ was simple: I have a great life. You can too. But only if you recognize that Democrats will destroy you and everything you love if given the chance. Or, to use Trump Jr.’s own words: “It’s almost like this election is shaping up to be church, work, and school vs. rioting, looting and vandalism.”

Then came Scott — and everything changed.

The South Carolina Republican senator presented a very different face of the Republican Party than the one offered up by Trump Jr. Gone were the hard edges about Democrats’ working to destroy society. In their place was Scott’s powerful retelling of how he is “living my mother’s American Dream.”

Trump's coalition is narrowing

Scott spoke of his parents’ divorce when he was young, his mother working 16 hours a day to provide, his own lack of focus in school. “But even while I was failing the 9th grade … my mother always said, ‘When you shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you will be among the stars.” Scott recounted. “She never lost faith in me, even when I lost faith in myself.”

Hopefulness and optimism virtually poured from Scott’s words. “We live in a world that only wants you to believe in the bad news … racially, economically and culturally polarizing news,” he said at one point. “The truth is, our nation’s arc always bends back towards fairness. We are not fully where we want to be … but thank God we are not where we used to be!”

Scott presented himself as the living embodiment of what it means to dream and how hard work is rewarded — especially by a Republican Party that believes that you can make of yourself whatever you can imagine. In a stunningly powerful line near the close of his remarks, Scott said this: “Our family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime. And that’s why I believe the next American century can be better than the last.”

Watching the back-to-back speeches, you could be forgiven for a bit of whiplash. The only thing that Trump Jr. and Scott seemed to have in common is the fact that they both identify as Republicans. Beyond that, the two speeches — and the two men giving them — felt like they were coming from different planets.

Which, in a very real sense, they were. Trump Jr. represents a sort of Trumpism 2.0 — younger, edgier (yes, that is possible), more aggressive and entirely uncompromising. Scott, on the other hand, is symbolic of a future many in the GOP establishment hope for: A Black man — steeped in the fiscal and social conservatism that the GOP has leaned on for decades — carrying a message of opportunity and hope to a country that has stopped seeing Republicans in that light.

Hits and misses from Night 1 of the Republican National Convention

What’s so fascinating about the dueling visions of the GOP on display Monday night is that this is only a preview — an early skirmish of the larger Republican war to come.

Both Trump Jr. and Scott are already being mentioned as potential 2024 candidates for the Republican nomination — whether or not President Trump wins a second term in 70 days.

“I’m not ruling it in,” Scott said cryptically on “Fox & Friends” Tuesday morning when asked whether he would rule out a run for president.
Which sounds a lot like what Trump Jr. told a Michigan rally of his father’s supporters last year. “Right now, I’ll never rule anything out,” Trump Jr. said. “I do enjoy it. I like being in the fight. I like being in the mix. I like seeing, you know, the difference it’s making to real working-class families all over the country.”

Make no mistake: Neither Trump Jr. nor Scott will have a free run at the nomination if they do decide to seek it. Trump Jr. will be joined in the Trump 2.0 lane by the likes of Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Vice President Mike Pence. Scott’s alternate vision of the GOP will be one shared by former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, among others.

Even though the 2024 race will get more crowded and less clear-cut as we get closer to it, what we saw on Monday night is a stark reminder that the post-Trump GOP will be faced with an fundamental choice over the next few years: More Trumpism, or a kinder, gentler version of the GOP. The choice the party’s voters make will have implications that could last for decades.

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