The Washington Post, June 18, 2020
November is our chance to wipe out Trumpism, not just Trump
Voters are finally waking up to the dangers of Trumpism, as America lurches from crisis to crisis. The United States needs a serious, unifying leader who can rise to meet the moment. Instead, we’re stuck with a deranged, racist conspiracy theorist who rises only to live-tweet “Fox & Friends.”
Thankfully, poll after poll shows Americans abandoning President Trump. In some battleground states, former vice president Joe Biden has racked up double-digit leads. Of course, a few months is an eternity in a presidential campaign, so much could still change. But at the moment, Trump’s ship is sinking. He is currently on track to lose in November.
Unfortunately, Trump losing is not enough. Yes, for the United States and the world, a narrow victory for Biden would be exponentially better than a narrow victory for Trump. But we don’t need a narrow victory. We need a landslide that sends Trumpism to the dustbin of history — and forces the Republican Party to change.
Consider two scenarios. The first is a mirror image of the 2016 electoral college: Biden wins by recapturing Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, or loses one of those swing states but picks up Arizona instead. Biden scrapes together 278 or 279 electoral votes and heads to the White House.
If that happens, Trump will almost certainly contest the results. As I’ve written previously, given that he tried to discredit the election that he won with false claims of voter fraud, what would he do with an election he narrowly lost? If it’s close, the potency of those claims would be dangerously amplified. It could lead to sporadic violence, as Trump sends out tweets claiming he was robbed of victory by “the deep state.”
But the damage wouldn’t just be confined to the perilous months between a Trump loss in November and Biden’s January inauguration. The Republican Party would likely attribute a narrow Trump defeat to tactical errors; Trump had the winning formula right, they might say, but just botched it a bit. Conclusion: Tinker with Trumpism, don’t replace it.
That dynamic would likely give birth to a Trump 2.0 — still racist and xenophobic, but subtler and more strategic. The new candidate relies on racial dog whistles rather than bigoted bullhorns. And he or she begins implementing an authoritarian agenda that is systematic rather than just the destructive fantasies of a wannabe strongman. Given the way that people such as Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) are positioning themselves as Trumpian acolytes, it’s clear they’re eager to wriggle into a Trump-like costume for 2024.
After three and a half turbulent years, we have experimented with Trumpism. Voters will now decide the experiment’s outcome. And what we decide won’t just determine who is in the White House next year, it will determine what the Republican Party looks like for at least a decade.
But there’s also a more optimistic scenario. If we assume that the latest battleground state polling averages from FiveThirtyEight are correct (yes, a big assumption), then Biden would win 367 electoral votes (picking up Georgia, Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan compared with 2016). Right now, Trump is still leading in Texas and Iowa, but only by about a point. If he lost those (which is still unlikely), it wouldn’t be just defeat for the Republicans, it would wipe them out electorally.
If that happens, Trump’s bogus claims of voter fraud would largely fall on deaf ears. All but the most deluded MAGA fans would realize Trumpism had been rejected. Crucially, the Republican Party would be forced to reform. If Biden can beat Trump in such demographically diverse battleground states, then a Trumpian party is doomed to fail. And if Texas is even close come November, then Republicans will really get a wake-up call. There are few paths to the White House for Republicans without those 38 electoral votes.
This is precisely why any Republican voters on the fence should think not just about 2020, but about the future of the Republican Party for a generation. A Trump victory ensures that the Republican Party endures as the Party of Trump. A narrow defeat for Trump, sadly, would have the same effect.
America desperately needs two functioning political parties that are rooted in reality and firmly believe in an inclusive democracy. The only way to force the Republican Party to exorcise its demons of racism, authoritarianism and conspiracism is wholesale destruction at the ballot box.