By Paul V. DeMarco
Our long national nightmare is over. Donald Trump has overplayed his hand and (boy it sounds good to say this) is headed to the dustbin of history.
In 2016, Trump benefitted from the trifecta of a crowded Republican primary field, a weak challenger, and an angry electorate. I was in the audience when Trump came to the Florence Center in February of that year (not as a supporter but to see the show). I’ve been to many political rallies, including a national convention, and I’ve seen whipped-up crowds, but this was different. It was a quasi-religious fervor. The catharsis came when Trump shouted, “We’re going to build a wall” to ecstatic cheers. Then, gleefully, he asked “And who is going to pay for it!?” The crowd roared “Mexico!”
At the time, I discounted Trump. I was sure my fellow countrymen and women would see through what he was doing, playing to our fears, inflaming us with hyperbole, lies and innuendo. I was wrong. After he won, I thought back to two men sitting next to me at the rally. They had come straight from work and were still dressed in boots and Carhartt jeans. At one point, Trump said, “This country is going to hell.” The man sitting next to me said quietly to his friend, “In a hand basket.”
Whatever you think of Trump, he connected with those two construction workers in a way that no other politician in my lifetime has. Trump’s strength was that he brought attention and renewed dignity to working people who felt exploited by business, media, and tech elites. If you live where I do and have watched plant after plant close and your once thriving Main Street shrivel, it’s not hard to understand Trump’s appeal to folks Alan Jackson called “the little man.” No other candidate from either party could match Trump’s appeal to working-class voters, especially rural ones, whose jobs disappeared and wages were flat while economists told them how good it all was for the global economy. Trump acknowledged their loss and their pain and promised to advocate for them in Washington.
In 2016, most people who voted for Trump did not know what they were getting. They knew how they felt-angry, nostalgic, like the America they knew was slipping away. Not all their energy was generous – as demonstrated by the “Mexico” chant, but I will leave that for another column. For today, we can recognize that in 2020, the connection he forged with them in his first campaign outweighed the turbulence of his presidency, and they stuck with him the second time around.
Thankfully, for enough Americans, election denial is a bridge too far. Since the founding of the republic, we have demonstrated that we will accept colossal flaws in our candidates as long as they pledge to advance our policy positions. We will always argue about the size and role of government, the minimum wage, the regulation of guns, the best way to fund Social Security and Medicare, and the price of gas. But we know there needs to be an America in which we can argue. The tie that binds our fractious democracy together is our willingness to accept election results.
Trump strikes at the heart of this with his lies about election fraud. The midterms should have been a red tsunami. Joe Biden’s historically low approval ratings amidst the worst inflation in 40 years presaged disaster for the Democrats. Instead of reemploying his successful worker-centered strategy of 2016, Trump snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by harping incessantly about his loss in 2020.
The defeat of Blake Masters, a Trump-backed Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Arizona, will be remembered as the beginning of the end for Trump. Masters was poised to win a crucial Senate seat until he made election denial a pillar of his campaign. One of his television ads begins with a casually dressed Masters walking alone down a road in the Arizona desert. His first words are “I think Trump won in 2020.” A few seconds later, “The media – they’d tell any lie in order to hurt President Trump.”
That ad was a crucial test of how far Americans are willing to walk with Trump. An attack on the Capitol did not seem to be a deal-breaker for many Republicans. Would they overlook election denial as well? Fortunately not. Masters turned a winnable election into a five-point loss to the Democrat, former astronaut Mark Kelly.
Trump’s backing in a tight race is now the kiss of death – just ask Kari Lake (losing Arizona gubernatorial candidate), Mehmet Oz (losing Senate candidate in Pennsylvania), Adam Laxalt (losing Senate candidate in Nevada), Tudor Dixon (losing Michigan gubernatorial candidate), and most recently, Hershel Walker. Trump endorsed all of these candidates, and his super PAC spent heavily in their races.
Trump will not go quietly, but he will go. Ron DeSantis is the rising star in the Republican Party, as he should be after his blowout win over Charlie Crist. I’m no fan of DeSantis. I disagree with many of his policy positions and don’t like his governing style, exemplified by his duplicity in tricking almost fifty asylum seekers to board planes for Martha’s Vineyard to “own the libs.” But crucially, he won without resorting to election denialism. I am confident he will respect our electoral process and not defile it further if he loses. For that reason alone, Republicans should abandon Trump and embrace DeSantis. America will be more secure once Trump leaves the stage.
A version of this column appeared in the Nov. 30 edition of the Florence Morning News.
Thanks for the contribution, Paul — it’s especially good to have since I’ve been AWOL lately.
But I’m afraid you’re overly optimistic. Our “long national nightmare” isn’t specifically that Donald Trump might get elected again. It’s that our nation has sunk to the point that he was elected in the first place. And that hasn’t changed, I’m afraid.
You’re encouraged by the rise of DeSantis. I am not. He seeks to benefit from the same madness that opened the door to Trump. And that is far from gone in this country….
Also, I know a lot of observers use support for the “Big Lie” as a measurement of Trumpism. I think they overuse it. As sick and twisted as that is, it’s just one symptom of the much larger, broader syndrome.
But even if you do accept that as THE measurement, I think you’re being overly optimistic. You mention several prominent candidates who lost supporting that nonsense. But you ignore the way that dynamic works.
Read this piece in The Washington Post from before the election, headlined “Most Republican candidates endorse the ‘big lie’ — even when voters don’t.”
That’s nice that “voters don’t,” but these people don’t walk in fear of the electorate overall. They fear being thrown out of office by plurality of Republican primary voters. That doesn’t take anything near a majority of the full electorate…
So yeah, a few of these folks in critical elections lost in November. But that won’t stop the ones who remain from endorsing insanity….
You are correct to say that waking from a nightmare is too dramatic a metaphor. Ross Douthat, a never Trumper, has a good column in the NYT from 12/17 entitled “The End of the Trump Era Will Be Unsatisfying.” He argues that partisans will forgive and forget. Republicans will abandon Trump not because he’s indecent and unfit, but because he can’t win. And many Republicans repelled by Trump will come back to a ticket led by DeSantis or someone similar. I’m not sure which of us has the sunnier view of human nature. You seem to be worried that Trump represents something new and dangerous in our politics, that our politics has been heretofore more stable and sane. Therefore you may be the more idealistic, believing that since Lincoln’s exhortation, we have been listening to our better angels until now. I’m not as bothered by what Trump represents, because I think it has always been with us-in the politics of Huey Long, the Daley Machine, young Strom Thurmond, Wallace, Nixon and a hundred more. Trump’s approach is more brazen and amplified by social media, but figures like him have always been, and will always be, a part of American politics.
I think you misunderstand me. I don’t think our politics was filled with Lincoln’s “better angels.” But I think — no, I know — it lacked the utter insanity it contains now. Before 2016, people like Trump were generally laughed off the national stage before they became anything of a threat. Long and Daley were regional phenomena. And Strom and Wallace were never serious threats to become president. You mention Nixon. The difference is like night and day. Nixon was a sane and intelligent figure — light years above a clown like Trump, in terms of qualification — who had some rather dark personality traits. Those traits came to the fore in Watergate.
But Watergate provides us with two stark differences between then and now:
1. When the evidence against Nixon piled up, his Republican support crumbled — even in the face of his devastating re-election victory, men like Howard Baker turned away from him.
2. When Nixon saw that he was going to be impeached, he resigned. He didn’t cling on with all his might and stir up all those people who had voted for him in 1972 to ride out the impeachment and cling to power. He didn’t do that because it was unimaginable to him, and to the country. And it wouldn’t have worked. Not only was he a better man than Trump — or at least one smart enough to see it wouldn’t work — but we were a better country, one that was clearly ready to see him go.
We have a system that was devised by very practical men, who were not a bunch of Pollyannas deceived about human nature. They did what they could to rig the system to resist any madness that might arise in the electorate. And while we’ve steadily eroded the mechanisms they built in to where they are ineffective, there was something bigger that that protecting us: An electorate that, in the aggregate, was too sensible to take a Trump or any of his predecessors seriously, certainly not to trust them with the most powerful office in the country (and today, in the world).
The theory behind a free press and the other protections in the First Amendment worked. Show people that a candidate is an idiot or untrustworthy or both, and they would turn from him. (I’m talking nationally here, whatever might happen on a smaller scale such as Louisiana or Chicago). Now, they call it “fake news,” and really, truly believe that in spite what Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, they ARE entitled to their own facts.
People might have been shifty or venal or whatever in the past, but they had to cling to SOME measure of acknowledging reality — until 2016. The fall was stark, dramatic and tragic. And it’s going to take a long, long time for us, as a country, to get over the things that caused it…
A better title would be:
DeMarco: Trump is Done . Next .
“Trump’s strength was that he brought attention and renewed dignity to working people who felt exploited by business, media, and tech elites.” Both Republicans and Democrats turned their backs on the middle/working class when they were blinded by $$profit$$ from China and announced that America’s future was the service industry. Republicans are worse in my view in that they hide the fact that they also want to do away with Social Security, Medicare, and public education, which if they succeed, will finish off the middle/working class.
DeSantis is scarier than Trump and deserves no one’s respect…
Brad, your reply is an excellent rebuttal, a perfect example of why your blog is so important. Your knowledge of history and politics exceeds mine and so when you disagree with me, I learn. I agree with you that we have never had a modern president with Trump’s dictatorial instincts although Andrew Jackson might compare, as would VP John C. Calhoun. Trump is a man of his times. I’m not convinced that had Nixon been embroiled in Watergate in 2020 that he would have agreed to resign, or that the Republicans in Congress would have forced him too.
Today Nixon would have been a different man, because he would have been shaped by different forces — including the general slide downward of his party since about the early 1980s.
But the WWII veteran and eight-year VP to Ike was shaped to do the honorable thing — recognizing his own dishonor — and resign.
He was a seriously flawed man who lived in a better time, when better things were expected.
I applaud your mention of Andrew Jackson. To me, as a student (in college days) of the early days of our republic, I saw him as the first great failure of our political system. We had Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and then… we went off a cliff.
The defeat of Quincy Adams — certainly the best-prepared president to date in terms of qualifications — by the unqualified Jackson was clearly, to me, the worst electoral result in our history, until 2016….
I saw a clip of Kevin McCarthy on Fox News this week ridiculing Senate Republicans for being willing to work with Democrats to make sure the government doesn’t shut down.
He called the idea of working with Democrats as “shameful.”
Compromise is not just something that some people aren’t interested in. Some actively campaign on tv that the idea of compromising on an issue is evil.
The country won’t ultimately survive with leaders like that.
Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, who barely survived her re-election bid (Kudos to her Democratic opponent who conceded the race when it was still mathematically possible for him to win given the outstanding votes at the time, said over the weekend at a large conservative conference in Texas that she would be working to put Joe Biden in jail. She received big applause.
and Kari Lake, the Trump endorsed 2 time loser in Arizona spoke at Mar-a-Lago over the weekend to Log Cabin Republicans. In her vulgar filled speech in front of self proclaimed conservatives, she referred to her opponents as evil and referred to herself as a bitch that would never back down. The crowd cheered.
Not mentioned at the Log Cabin event was Joe Biden signing the Respect for Marriage Act that the Log Cabin group has supported for years.
Sorry, no, the nightmare is not over. We may be at the beginning of the end, but we are far from waking from it. While Trump himself may be wearing out his welcome, Trump-ISM is far from dead. It was not born with Trump and it will not end with his potential departure from the political stage. Its constituent elements continue to circulate through the body politic.
“Stop the Steal” wasn’t just about the election. It was about how the country is supposedly being “stolen.”
And just by the way, I also disagree that that economic decline – whether personal or national — was the reason for his rise and victory. Economic displacement and financial disorder helped fuel discontent, but it was in not the overriding factor. After all, the bulk of those who voted for him in 2016 were not facing financial difficulties. They were generally quite comfortable.
I agree completely. The problem is the -ism, not the man. He’s just the buffoon who came along and offered what the TrumpISTS wanted…
Meanwhile, the Twitter Files reporting by serious, unpartisan journalists shows without doubt that Democrat operatives, former Democrat and FBI operatives who worked for Twitter, and the FBI colluded to censor Twitter users and specific information about Hunter Biden’s laptop prior to the election… using phony Russia influence (where have we heard THAT before?) as the excuse when it was clearly a lie.
If you can read through the very thorough reporting and factual evidence in the Twitter files and then accept the liberal media spin on it as “nothing”, you’re brainwashed beyond hope.
Oh yeah, I said Trump was done a long time ago. His style rubbed too many independents and thinking Republicans the wrong way. Unfortunately, we were left with the empty husk known as Joe Biden… who comes out to speak about as often as Punxatawny Phil. We haven’t even hit year 2 yet of his administration and he’s done nothing but read off teleprompters and photo ops. He’s done as well.. we just have to wait for the announcement sometime in the next 6 months.
It’s interesting that Doug, who dismisses mere “words,” places such absurd importance on rhetorical ability. Which, by the way, he judges according to unusual parameters.
Aside from the fact that he has always loved to talk and therefore occasionally says things he shouldn’t, I’d place Joe as above average as a speaker.
To offer y’all a more discerning analysis of our president, I refer you to this Max Boot column that I tweeted about this morning. Boot has had a lot of good columns lately:
You grade on a very lenient curve for Joe. I would bet everything I own that he could not hold a one hour conversation without notes or teleprompter covering his objectives for 2023. He’s a puppet. He says and does whatever his staff prepares for him.
Please provide a link to the last extended conversation Joe made without a speech or notes.
Guess you didn’t have time to address the Twitter Files news. It’s telling what people ignore.
Telling to you, perhaps. I didn’t know what you were talking about, so it told me nothing…
I did read something today about Twitter, but not about any Files…
What I read was this editorial in the Post…
I’m no Elon expert but the man seems to be all over the place mentally.
Tesla is tanking right now. Elon is messing around on social media tweeting right wing talking points. He’s losing tens of millions every day – and doesn’t really seem to have a direction he wants to go.
He’s banning people himself- and lying about some of the reasons. Then reinstating them later with no explanation.
The problem with the Twitter stuff is – most people aren’t on Twitter and don’t use it.
60 year old dad, and 75 year old grandma might very well have a facebook account. Chances are they don’t have twitter and don’t even understand it.
So it’s a bit of a nothing burger with right wingers whining and crying about what happened 2-3 years ago.
I say the more than want to complain about 2-3 years ago, the better.
It’s particularly bizarre to see him attacking journalists. They, and political professionals, are the biggest users of Twitter…
According to recent data, there are expected to be 56.9 million Twitter users in the US in 2023. They represent 18.7% of all internet users there. In other words, nearly one out of every five people who use the internet is also an active user of Twitter.