Populism, democracy, and the post-2020 Republican Party in Congress

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Populist chief executives tend to weaken democracies by undermining the rule of law and horizontal accountability. For insight into the resilience of American democracy against such threats, this article takes a close look at how the Republican Party in Congress responded to President Donald J.Trump's attack on the legitimacy of American elections following his loss in the 2020 elections. It examines post-2020 congressional Republicans’ decisions about party positioning, legislative party leadership and membership, and Trump's status as party leader. In each set of decisions, congressional Republicans pursued their own interests rather than echoing Trump's claims or taking direction from him. Congressional Republicans, however, largely declined to criticize Trump directly in light of their voters’ continued support for him, support that was evident in the 2022 Republican primaries. The overall conclusion is that the self-interest of separately elected members of Congress offers a significant, albeit imperfect defense against a populist chief executive's bid for hegemony.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)169-185
Number of pages17
JournalPresidential Studies Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2023
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


  • Congress
  • Republican Party
  • populism


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