Many of my fellow travelers on the left watched with horror-tinged disbelief as our former adversaries transformed from a political party into a sect. I use that word wisely. It would have been unthinkable even a decade ago to imagine that a losing candidate would ask his supporters to rally in Washington and then urge them to march on Capitol Hill and fight like hell.
But before we get too self-righteous, let me ask a question: what if Donald Trump had run as a Democrat in 2016?
He had no strong political leanings. He was pro-choice. In fact, President Bill Clinton named Trump’s pro-choice sister to the United States Court of Appeals. Bill and Hillary were guests at Trump’s third wedding. Speaking of third marriages, Trump’s tabloid lifestyle would seem a bit bawdy to old-school Republicans. Prior to Trump’s rise, Mitt Romney had been the party’s standard bearer. And before him, war hero John McCain. And before him, the born again George W. Bush. Additionally, Trump has proudly called himself the “Debt King.” It’s not a nickname that would normally play well in Republican primaries.
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So it’s easy to imagine Trump weighing his options and deciding his best path to the White House via the Democratic Party.
He should have beaten Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton for the nomination. They wouldn’t have known what was hitting them. Ted Cruz and John Kasich, who were so insignificant he didn’t even jot down a nickname, were the last men standing in 2016, but I guess establishment favorite Jeb Bush would have taken the day in a row. Trumpless party.
So take your pick – Inconsequential John, Lying Ted or Low-Energy Jeb. Trump would have crushed any of them.
But wait, you say. The Dems are the liberal, pro-civil rights, majority party for all minorities. Much of Trump’s appeal is to white men. In Trumplandia there must be an Other.
Do not worry. The Dems could have given up on the Latinos. With Jeb Bush leading the ticket, the Latino vote would have gone Republican anyway. A candidate who speaks fluent Spanish and a First Lady from south of the border? No matter who the Democrats put in, there would have been a realignment.
Thus, the Democratic Trump could have continued to speak of the “murderers and rapists” coming from Mexico. He could have suggested that Latinos go back to “crime-infested countries” where they came from – even if they came from here.
Besides, racism is in the DNA of the Democratic Party. George Wallace was a Democrat. So was Georgia Governor Lester Maddox, who rose to prominence when he refused to serve black customers at his Atlanta restaurant and handed out ax handles – Maddox chopsticks – for use. against any potential black client. He was lieutenant governor when Jimmy Carter was governor. We had a big tent at the time.
St. Louis was no different. When I moved here in 1980, there were two parties: black Democrats and white Democrats. They shared the spoils unequally. Blacks got the license collector’s office. Whites have everything else.
Would a Democratic Trump have made the same powerful connection to working-class whites as Republican Trump? Absoutely. He is a force of nature and his appeal is tied to his ability to stir up white grievances, of which there are many. And when I say force of nature, I mean strong man. They always appear in times of turmoil and fear.
Trumpism is not about what we call trouble. I watched – on TV – a few of his rallies and abortion was rarely mentioned. People who tell you they don’t like Trump but support him because of his court picks are like guys who said they bought Playboy for the stories. Maybe some guys did, but not many of us.
So imagine a political world in which white working class people returned to the Democratic Party in 2016. The happy days are back! Imagine Trump’s long tails carrying Democrats to victory across the great state of Missouri. Democrats in statewide office. Democratic Majorities in the Legislative Assembly. Democratic county officials. A pool of future leaders.
What if you had to be a Democrat to win outside of Missouri?
That’s what a Democratic Trump could have meant.
So if this Democratic Trump then went off the rails, actively sought to undermine confidence in our electoral system, and became the first president to reject a peaceful transfer of power, would Democratic leaders have turned their backs on the party’s beloved leader? ?
I’m not talking about former public servants who can afford to stand up on principle. I don’t want to denigrate the courage of the elders, but they have nothing to lose.
I’m talking about people in the game, people who look back and see a crowd of True Believers. Who would stand up to this crowd when it is easier – and politically safer – to raise your fist in solidarity?
Bad example. I would never defend Senator Josh Hawley. He’s been an impostor ever since he ran for Attorney General on the assumption that most people who apply for the job intend to use him as a political stepladder, but as a specialist in constitution, he only wanted to serve as attorney general. He won the election and immediately began his campaign for the Senate.
I’m talking more about honorable and honest people. Ann Wagner and Eric Schmitt, for example. Wagner was a church lady who loved guns. She liked them a little too much for my taste, but she seemed nice. Schmitt was a conservative state legislator from a wealthy suburb who was willing to work with the city’s Democrats. He was also the go-to person for parents of children with special needs. Kindness and common sense.
Now, when he’s not suing China or opposing efforts to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination, he’s suing school districts as he fights the good fight on behalf of the coronavirus. For reasons I don’t pretend to understand, this is a popular fight in the MAGA world.
Wagner’s transformation was equally striking. She has been one of Trump’s most loyal followers. She excused the worst of her excesses. She dutifully joined in his efforts to undermine public confidence in the electoral system. She even defended fellow Trumpista Marjorie Taylor Greene, who got into trouble for suggesting that a Jewish-funded space laser caused wildfires in California. (The Rothschilds were behind it for final coal reasons, Greene said.) Wagner suffered a brief relapse into normalcy when she voted to certify the election results, but then quickly regained her bearings. No to impeachment. No to any investigation into the January 6 riots. No to a minute of silence in honor of the police who fought the crowd.
But do you know something? Wagner and Schmitt are in the mainstream of their party when they degrade at the MAGA altar.
I don’t think the Democrats would have fared better. When the mob is behind you, you either lead it or get chased. You choose.
Courage is valued only because it is rare.
Liz Cheney and Mike Pence do not represent us as a species. Wagner and Schmitt do.
We’ll never know which Democrats would have taken the high road if the political situation had reversed, but we can be sure that the road would not have been congested.