Opinion | Who Will We Be Without Donald Trump?

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Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York progressive, and Conor Lamb, a Pennsylvania moderate, began trading recriminations about where Democrats went right, where they went wrong and where they should go from here. So did Representatives Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia moderate, and Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan progressive.

In a column published in The Times on Monday evening, my colleague Michelle Goldberg implored Democrats to tone it down and keep it together. In a column published on Wednesday morning, my colleague Thomas Edsall asked whether they could. This one-two punch wasn’t overkill. It was a 20-20 glimpse of life beyond 2020.

Policy differences between progressives and moderates may be solved by Mitch McConnell: If Republicans win at least one of the two runoffs in Georgia on Jan. 5 and hold on to their Senate majority, McConnell, as the majority leader, will be the grim reaper of any transformative legislation.

But that still leaves room for arguments about the issues that Democrats should emphasize and the tone that they should strike for the 2022 midterms. Especially with Trump out of office, those disputes could be heated.

And there will be plenty of political friction to go around. Up until Nov. 3, Never Trump Republicans were heroes to many Democrats — ultimate proof that the ruler was rotten. But that love affair can’t survive Trump’s defeat, a reality evident in a few progressives’ fierce attacks on the Lincoln Project — an anti-Trump super PAC founded by Republicans — since Election Day.

And what happens to those Republicans? The more than 73 million ballots cast for Trump in 2020 — giving him about 47 percent of the popular vote, up from 46 percent four years ago — prove that the party didn’t come around to them and isn’t about to cue up Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited.” They’re paradigmatic, emblematic: When you’ve shaped yourself almost entirely in opposition to someone who has been vanquished, are you free or formless?

The test for the mainstream media is our ability to turn away from Trump even if he remains a potent audience draw. It’s not certain that he will be: When Trump and Biden appeared at rival town halls on the same night in October, Biden drew more television viewers. And the much-discussed “Trump bump” that cable news channels and newspapers experienced in and right after 2016 faded over time.

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