How Trump could win in 2020

Donald Trump

Donald Trump campaigned for President with both negative attacks and positive promises.  If he had done more to keep his positive promises, he might have made the Republican Party a majority party.

It is not too late.  If he proposes a meaningful infrastructure plan or a serious plan to lower the price of prescription drugs, he will put himself on the side of public opinion and force the Democrats into a no-win choice of giving Trump credit or opposing a beneficial proposal.

Trump’s other choice is to continue as he as—by stirring up antagonism to racial minorities, immigrants, feminists, Muslims, the press and “political correctness.”  This also could work, if the Democrats fall into the trap of reacting to Trump rather than setting a popular agenda of their own.

Ross Dothan explained how in a New York Times column written right before the 2018 election.

Imagine that instead of just containing himself and behaving like a generic Republican, Trump had actually followed through on the populism that he promised in 2016, dragging his party toward the economic center and ditching the G.O.P.’s most unpopular ideas.

Imagine that he followed through on Steve Bannon’s boasts about a big infrastructure bill instead of trying for Obamacare repeal.

Imagine that he listened to Marco Rubio and his daughter and tilted his tax cut more toward middle-class families.

Imagine that he spent more time bullying Silicon Valley into in-shoring factory jobs than whining about Fake News.

Imagine that he made lower Medicare drug prices a signature issue rather than a last-minute pre-election gambit.

This strategy could have easily cut the knees out from under the Democrats’ strongest appeal, their more middle-class-friendly economic agenda, and highlighted their biggest liability, which is the way the party’s base is pulling liberalism way left of the middle on issues of race and culture and identity.

It would have given Trump a chance to expand his support among minorities while holding working-class whites, and to claim the kind of decisive power that many nationalist leaders around the world enjoy.

It would have threatened liberalism not just with more years out of power, but outright irrelevance under long-term right-of-center rule.

It’s true that President Trump has kept his promise to try to revise unfavorable trade treaties and deal with unauthorized immigration.  I think his approach to trade is clumsy and erratic and his approach to immigration is needlessly cruel, but he has at least forced a national rethinking of these issues.

If he continued to press for restrictions on imports and immigration, if he proposed a serious infrastructure program and prescription drug program, if he managed to refrain from starting any new wars and if the next recession didn’t start until later 2020, he would have an excellent chance of winning.

None of these things are incompatible with the politics of polarization, any more than a Democratic push to strengthen labor unions and raise the minimum wage would be incompatible with being pro-Black Lives Matter, pro-feminist and pro-LGBT.

Neither are they incompatible with the Republicans’ suppression of the potential Democratic vote through gerrymandering, voter registration purges and artificial obstacles to voting in minority districts.  I think this morally, if not legally wrong, but it probably gave Republicans their margin of victory in some close races.

Based on his record so far, I don’t think Trump is capable of either proposing or carrying out a positive economic populist program.  I think the politics of polarization reflect his temperament, abilities and the habits of a lifetime.

But the politics of polarization may be enough for Trump to win if Democrats merely react to Trump instead of setting an economic populist agenda of their own to which Trump would have to react.

LINKS

The Luck of the Democrats by Ross Douthat for The New York Times.

Mixed Midterm Results Reveal the Trump Paradox by Robert W. Merry for The American Conservative.

A Good Night for Senate Republicans, A Bad Night for Trumpism by W. James Antle III for The American Conservative.

Republicans Tighten Their Grip on Farm Country by Tom Philpott for Mother Jones.

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