What happens after Trump is no longer President?
Many commentators focus on norms. You know, like using the Oval Office to promote your private businesses, like concealing your tax information, like calling opposing politicians treasonous, like attacking the judiciary and law enforcement and the fourth estate, like declining to enforce laws, like ignoring cyber-attacks on America, like refusing to hold state dinners or attend things that every other President attended. There’s no law that prevents the President from doing all this, but the punditocracy wonders aloud if, because 45 went where no President went before, 46 through 100 will feel free to follow suit.
Let them argue about that; I’m more interested in gaming out what American politicians will say and do, relating to Trump, when Trump is no longer in office.
Clearly, it depends on how he governs and how leaves. If, as some honest people think, Trump wins re-election in 2020 and leaves office in 2024 having presided over some Reagan-like shift in popular mood, well then, I’d say all these Republican politicians have positioned themselves quite cleverly.
This is unimaginable to me without a considerable pivot. Basically, Trump needs some Democratic votes to succeed. And yet, alone amongst all Presidents of my lifetime, he has behaved as though he doesn’t need votes from the oppositional party. And so, if Trump ever does pivot, his rabid base will become disillusioned, perhaps even call him a cuck.
So I don’t see this ending like Reagan. In fact, I find it hard to imagine Trump winning in 2020, for about a hundred reasons that I’m not going to spell out here; many of them are covered here.
Look, in my heart of hearts and fantasy of fantasies, I hope Trump serves as some kind of twisted wake-up call to the two-party system. I’d love to see the Democrats and Republicans each split in half, and scrambling for, well, fifth-party votes. A responsive democracy that actually takes on issues that these two parties collectively ignore! Oh, that would be great. But…
Today I’m going with the conventional wisdom that says the two-party system holds. And today I’m interested in what you might call the half-life of Trump’s toxic, radioactive Presidency in such a world.
How long will Democrats be able to run against Trump, and how long (and how much) will Republicans “own” him?
Of course, no one quite knows the answer to that. One thing we do know is that we are long, long past the era when a President would come into office and never again mention his opponent. From the moment he became President, you never heard Bill Clinton mention George H.W. Bush. And Clinton’s successor, Bush’s son, very rarely mentioned his predecessor. However, Obama routinely mentioned the younger Bush, at least by inference, every time he said something like “when I became President, the unemployment rate was ___ and the stock market was ___!” Obama kept reminding us what a mess he inherited. And so has Trump. The next President will likely do likewise. And thus serve as an example to the behavior of other politicians.
Still, there are reasons to think that liberals/Democrats will use “Trump” or “Trumpian” or “Trumpist” the same way that conservatives/Republicans have been using the word “liberal” – all the time, and for decades. With his unique celebrity and unique propensity for making headlines for the wrong reasons, Trump is known to many Americans who don’t really follow politics. Spending the next generation treating him the way, say, Chileans currently treat Pinochet is just smart politics…right?
Right here at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, Republicans have been able to rely on a certain anti-anti-Trump phenomenon: the more Democrats criticize him, the more people resent the criticism. It’s not just Trump’s base, who have already said that they take criticisms of Trump personally; it’s also more independent voters, who may not love Trump, but also see Democrats (and most politicians) as do-nothing whiners.
At a certain point, whether it’s in 2024 or 2028, some Democrat will invoke “Trumpism” as a catch-all criticism of Republicans, and some Republican, who has had it up to HERE with this line of attack, will blurt something like “Just get over it, already.” The question is: will this particular Republican suddenly lose his/her next primary because he/she dared to speak ill of Saint Trump?
You might say we have the Presidency of George W. Bush as a guide. As with W, the chance of Trump appearing at a future Republican convention (where he’s not the nominee) is something less than zero. In other words, the party is already accustomed to disavowing its own…right?
Yes and no. Starting in 2009, the Fox News-led right-wing-o-sphere barely mentioned, or mentions, W at all. They’re more likely to mention Reagan. They don’t bother to assert that recent Republican policies worked; it’s enough to say that Democrats are morons.
Perhaps they’ll do a similar disappearing act with Trump. But…somehow that seems as though it’ll be harder than it was last decade. After Katrina and what Iraq became in 2006, Bush was a loser on his own terms, and his approval rating dipped below 25%. It’s hard to imagine Trump going much below 35, and further, Republicans know, in a way they didn’t when Bush was President, that that 35 has all the power in every primary. So they can’t really shove Trump down the memory hole and pretend he never happened…can they?
I actually wonder how any party can win any election, anywhere, when George W. Bush and Donald Trump were its last two standard-bearers. If I were any Democrat, I’d bring that up any and everywhere: “The party of Bush and Trump tells you that they want to reduce the deficit. Have they had enough chances yet?”
But I suppose some Republican would counter: “My opponent is stuck in the past. We’re now the party we were always trying to be. We’re moving on.”
I believe a smart Republican billionaire should bid on the site moveon.org. Just for the name.