Is Trump a blip?

Kevin Drum argues that he is:

One of the key questions raised by Donald Trump’s 2016 victory has been whether he represents a new turn in American politics or merely a blip who will be quickly forgotten if he loses in 2020. Over the past four years I’ve spent a lot of time reviewing the evidence about this, and the conclusion I’ve come to is pretty simple: Trump is a blip.

Let’s back up a bit. For a very long time Democrats have believed that demographics were on their side. Republicans are acutely dependent on white voters, and every election cycle the share of white voters declines by a percent or two. Since voters of color largely support Democrats, this would someday make it all but impossible for Republicans to win the presidency.

But when would that day come? The Census Bureau projects that white voters won’t lose their absolute majority until 2044, but the Republican day of reckoning will come long before that. In fact, my take is that it’s already happened. It came in 2008, and ever since then it’s been close to hopeless for a Republican to win the presidency. This makes Donald Trump not a harbinger of things to come, but a final, feral howl of white reactionary politics as a ticket to the White House. He eked out one last victory for the Fox News set not because racism was broadly on the rise, but because of a string of remarkable happenstances: Russian interference; a backlash against eight years of a Black man as president; a woman as his opponent; a last-minute FBI letter; and an unexpected blurp in the Electoral College that placed him in the Oval Office even though he lost the popular vote by millions of votes.

. . . Trump obviously depends on the support of conservative white voters, but even among this group he’ll have a hard time winning because there are simply too many conservative white people who have become disgusted by Trump’s obviously racist appeals.

. . . In the same way that 2016 featured a white backlash against a Black man in the White House, 2020 is almost certain to feature a white backlash against an open racist in the White House. . . .

I agree with Kevin that Trump’s explicit use of racist messages may have reduced his support among decent people who would otherwise vote Republican.  But this suggests only that Trump’s overtly racist appeals may be counterproductive in a country that is slowly becoming more diverse and tolerant.  It does not show that the post-Eisenhower Republican electoral coalition of plutocratic economic conservatives and social conservatives will no longer be competitive if Republicans use less overtly racist messaging, especially given the tilt in the electoral college and the Senate in favor of conservative, rural voters.  Remember that Trump appeared to be highly competitive heading into the 2020 election until the COVID epidemic hit, notwithstanding his overt racism.  It is primarily Trump’s gross mismanagement of the epidemic that has endangered his presidency, not his racism.

I also agree the country is likely to become more progressive and tolerant over time.  The real question is how quickly this will occur, and how the Republican party reacts.  Will the Republican donor class accept some moderation on economic issues?  Will Republican media elites and primary voters allow the party to triangulate towards the center?  (Here is a pessimistic take by Drutman.)  Or can Republicans remain competitive by putting a bit of “compassionate conservative” lipstick on their plutocratic, intolerant pig?  Questions like these will determine how much of a blip Trump turns out to be.  And of course, all this assumes we remain a functioning democracy long enough to find out.

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