Only defeat can break Trump's hold on the party
In his appraisal of the war between Iraq and Iran, Henry Kissinger famously remarked that “it’s a pity both sides can’t lose.” Increasingly that’s how the upcoming battle between the Trumpian GOP and the woke Democrats seems to many Americans, whose faith the political system, notes Gallup, is at a nadir. Only 7%, for example, express a great deal of confidence in Congress and barely a quarter in the Presidency.
A solid majority of Americans dislike both parties. No surprise here as they continue to alienate all voters outside their base constituency. Under such conditions, a victory by either will simply serve to confirm their political direction ever further from the mainstream and set the conditions for a thumping in 2024.
Instead, it may also be better for each party to take a hit this November. Losing, it turns out, can be the precondition for winning big. Republicans, for example, took to heart the lessons of the Goldwater rout in 1964 and embraced a more moderate, pragmatic Richard Nixon who then won two consecutive elections. Democrats did the same after the 1972 McGovern disaster, shifting closer to the centre and winning big with the original New Democrat, Bill Clinton.
Big victories, sadly, don’t teach anything but hubris. Many Republicans would take a big win — meaning control of the Senate and a big House majority — as a vindication for both their policy agenda and their insane Duce, Donald Trump. Yet the elevation of the widely unpopular Trump, with barely 40% support, may be the best weapon the Democrats have, and is perhaps the one candidate that even the hapless Joe Biden, or even the pathetically ill-suited Kamala Harris, could possibly beat.
A big GOP gain would reinforce their embrace of issues like the 2020 election “steal” or ratcheting up controls on abortion. These are political disasters. The vast majority of Americans favour fairly liberal abortion laws, notes Gallup, with barely one in five Americans supporting a total ban, far less than the one-third who favour no restrictions. Similarly, although most Republicans back the Trump claim, a strong majority if voters feel the 2020 elections were not stolen.
Democrats may face a similar problem if they do better than expected this November, as is seen as likely even among conservatives. The party press — which includes most of the legacy and social media — is all excited about Biden’s new climate and tax bill, as well as the continuing legal travails of Trump. Keeping control of the Senate, with the help of some poorly chosen Trump backed candidates, and keeping losses in the House maybe minimal will be celebrated everywhere from CNN to the New York Times and The Washington Post as a great victory over Trumpian neo-fascism.
But here’s the bad news. If they do relatively well in November, the Democrats will have no reason to reverse the policies that drove their numbers down in the first place. Unchastened, they will tell themselves that the Green New Deal, defunding police, Critical Race Theory in school, open borders are just misunderstood, not flawed policies. Yet very few Americans, roughly 2%, notes Gallup, prioritise climate change while barely a third of Americans, according to another recent survey, support the Biden energy polices. And most Democrats still worry about rising crime and inflation. If they stick with their current policies, expect the Democrats to lose in 2024 if the Republicans nominate someone other than Trump.
Internal cleansing and rethinking after a defeat may not be the most efficient way of reforming politics, but right now the only way for them to reform their ways is to slap them down hard, although they sadly can’t go down together.