Ms. Stefanik and many other Republican leaders are betting that the path to keeping the electoral gains of the Trump era lies in stoking their base with the populist politics that are central to the president’s brand, even if they repel swing voters.
After months of being fed lies about the election by the conservative news media, much of the party has come to embrace them as true. Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist who has been conducting focus groups of Trump voters for years, said that since the election she had found an increased openness to what she calls “QAnon curious,” a willingness to entertain conspiracy theories about stolen elections and a deep state. “A lot of these base voters are living in a post-truth nihilism where you believe in nothing and think that everything might be untrue,” said Ms. Longwell, who opposed Mr. Trump. Contrasting the priorities of Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, she added: “It’s an open question which strategy wins: Trying to do things that materially improve people’s lives or trying to attack things that make them feel aggrieved.”
Some Republican strategists worry that the party is missing opportunities to attack Mr. Biden, who has proposed the most sweeping spending and tax plans in generations.
Instead of presenting counterarguments to Mr. Biden and his $6 trillion economic agenda, Republicans are reorienting themselves to prosecute the perceived excesses of the left.
“Republicans need to go back to kitchen-table issues that voters really care about, sprinkle in a little culture here and there but not get carried away,” said Scott Reed, a veteran Republican strategist who helped crush right-wing populists in past elections. “And some of them are making an industry out of getting carried away.”
While clinging to Mr. Trump could help the party increase turnout among its base, Republicans like Ms. Comstock argue that such a strategy will damage the party with crucial demographics, including younger voters, voters of color, women and suburbanites. Already, intraparty fights are emerging in nascent primaries as candidates accuse each other of disloyalty to the former president. Many party leaders fear that could result in hard-right candidates’ emerging victorious and eventually losing general elections in conservative states where Republicans should prevail, like Missouri and Ohio.
“To declare Trump the winner of a shrinking minority, that’s not a territory you want to head up,” Ms. Comstock said. “The future of the party is not going to be some 70-year-old man talking in the mirror at Mar-a-Lago and having all these sycophants come down and do the limbo to get his approval.”