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Understanding the New Anti-Anti-Trumpism

People have trouble admitting that they're pure partisans.
July 6, 2020
Understanding the New Anti-Anti-Trumpism
(Hannah Yoest / Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)

1. The GOP of the Future

I had a lovely email exchange with a reader the other day who was making the case that while yes, Donald Trump is evil, unified Democratic control of the government would be at least as bad. And that in the post-Trump future, while the Democrats spin off into woke socialist land, the Republicans will once again become responsible, classical conservatives who can be trusted with power because the party will be retaken by grownups such as Mike Pence and Nikki Haley.

He may well be right.

But it seems to me that this scenario is a low-probability event.

Let’s stipulate that the most likely outcome for the medium-term future of American politics is awful. We’ll probably get some version of Don Jr. squaring off against AOC in 2024. That’s because the science is settled: We live in the worst possible timeline.

But to think that the Republican party will walk away from where it is now, you have to believe a few things that seem unlikely.

For starters, you’d have to believe that Donald Trump is going to disappear and decline to exercise any dynastic ambitions. This would run counter to information already in evidence about the Trump family.

Next, you’d have to believe that there were places in the party for non-Trumpy, non-conspiracy crazy, non-nationalists to get footholds. Well, here is a fun fact from Dave Wasserman: When Trump took office there were 241 R’s in the House; 115 of them have resigned, been defeated, or retired/are retiring.

What’s left of the elected party will be the Trumpiest parts.

The biggest factor, though, is what Republican voters actually want. And the evidence keeps piling up that the Republican party today is reasonably representative of voter preferences. Nearly half the GOP is against wearing masks in public. Less than half of Republican voters say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine. Then there’s the Q-Anon believers who keep winning primaries. So far, they’ve gotten 600,000 votes.

On the one hand, 600,000 is a small fraction of the 330 million people in America. But on the other hand, these folks are just getting started and have only gained entrance to a handful of primaries so far.

Here is a useful comparison. If you a Republican, ask yourself how pernicious you believe the Squad’s influence is within the Democratic party.

Now understand that come January, Q-Anon believing House members will likely outnumber the Squad.So that’s the Republican side of the ledger. Come 2021, is this Nikki Haley’s party? Or Father Coughlin’s?

No one can predict the future with total certainty, of course. But I know where I’d put my money.

2. The Democrats of the Future

On the other side we have the Democratic party. Many anti-anti-Trump Republicans seem to believe that Bernie Sanders and AOC and CHOP are the Democrats’ future.

And maybe they are. Certainly the party’s far left will do everything it can to take over.

But what evidence is there that the far left will be successful?

Over the last six months we saw:

  • Joe Biden beat back a well-funded Bernie Sanders who arrived in the race with all of the institutional advantages.
  • To do this, Biden held center-left the line against the three biggest policies of the far left: Medicare for All, open borders, and the Green New Deal.
  • When the George Floyd protests erupted, Biden held the center-left line again, coming out quickly and forcibly against the idea of “defunding” police.

Tick back to 2018 and the Democrats who surged to victory in the House tended to be moderates, not AOC-style socialists.

And as for the lawlessness of CHOP—a very liberal Democratic mayor just broke it up.

So while it’s possible that Biden is the last gasp of the center left, the actual evidence we have suggests that, for now, the center-left is in control of the party, both at the grassroots and the elected levels.

Or to put it another way: In order to believe that we are on the cusp of a progressive takeover of the party, you have to assume a number of things that haven’t happened.

Yet if you were looking for evidence that the center-left will remain in control of the Democratic party, say, six years from now, what more could you expect to see right now?

Not a lot.

3. Partisanship, All the Way Down

I suspect what’s going on with some people is that they’re discovering that they are more partisan than they ever imagined and that this creates cognitive dissonance with their self-image.

Most people believe that while they might identify with one party or the other, they’re actually ideologues. Or pragmatists. They’re not voting for Team Red or Team Blue—they just happen to agree with the policies or characterological traits of one of those teams 100 percent of the time.

And when the choice is George H.W. Bush versus Michael Dukakis, it’s easy to tell yourself that you’re either pragmatic or an ideologue, and not just a partisan who always pulls the lever for one side.

But confronted with a choice between Donald Trump (manifestly unfit for office; 130,000 dead Americans; massive recession; foreign affairs in shambles; policies running counter to much of conservatism) and Joe Biden (a replacement-level centrist Democrat) then the only reason to pull the R lever is because you will always pull the R lever, no matter what.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Say what you will about naked partisanship, but at least it’s an ethos!

However, this means reconciling your understanding of yourself as a pragmatist or ideologue with the truth of yourself as a pure partisan. And that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

Here is a question for anyone who doesn’t consider himself a pure partisan, but who is going to vote for Trump anyway: Can you describe a scenario in which you would vote for a Democrat for president?

Anyway, this is the long way around the barn of saying that I think this is why you see so many anti-anti-Trump types fixating on the sins of The Media. Or the Lincoln Project. Or the future threat of a potential Squad takeover of the Democratic party.

It should go without saying, but: None of those entities is actually on the ballot running for president. Donald Trump is.

And a vote for him is an admission that, despite whatever high-falutin’ ideas you have about politics or philosophy, you are, at bottom, just someone who is on a team for no particular reason except that it’s your team.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.