Although I deplored the way Donald Trump plays politics from the beginning, I didn’t become a Never Trumper until December of 2020.
At that time, I became convinced that Trump wasn’t just being a sore loser about the 2020 election. He was attempting a coup, plotting to remain in office despite losing the election.
That should have disqualified him from ever again being a serious candidate for any political office, even if the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol hadn’t occurred.
Trump is a dangerous demagogue. He has no respect for, and in a second term would seek not to be bound by, the constitutional and cultural guide rails that constrain and direct our democratic governance.
Trump is particularly dangerous because he is an unusually effective demagogue. He has turned one of our two major political parties into a personal cult. He has warped conservative institutions and organizations.
Keeping Trump from returning to power is a political objective that supersedes all others.
In 2020, Joe Biden made the successful case that he was the Democratic candidate most capable of denying Trump a second term. And he, in fact, did that.
I’m not sure that’s still the case in 2024, for reasons beyond his age and declining capabilities. In 2024, Biden can’t bifurcate his political audience the way he did in 2020 – posing as a safe, moderate, deal-making Democrat to independents and disaffected Republicans alarmed by or tired of Trump, while assuring progressives that he would deliver on their agenda. Given the way he has governed, Biden can’t make the same pitch to the independents and disaffected Republicans who gave him his margin of victory, in Arizona and in other states.
The theme of Biden’s announcement video was “finish the job.” From the way Biden has governed, and from the context of the video, there are three ways Biden defines the job to be finished, and two of them will unsettle swing voters.
The first is actually a continuation, rather than a finishing, of the job of keeping Trump from returning to power. There is nothing Trump has done since leaving office in a sulk to mollify the concerns of the independents and disaffected Republicans who tossed him out. In fact, Trump’s behavior and actions have intensified them.
However, the other two ways in which Biden pledges to finish the job involve implementing the progressive agenda. In 2020, independents and disaffected Republicans didn’t know they were signing up for that by rejecting Trump and voting for Biden. In 2024, it will be plainly before them.
Progressives want to transform the political economy of the United States into a European style social democracy, with a much more extensive social welfare system and greater government involvement in and direction of the economy.
They also want to irrevocably embed woke ideology in all American institutions, public and private. That involves displacing the American ethic and aspiration of being a meritocracy buttressed by expanding opportunity and replacing it with a compensatory distribution of power and benefits based upon identity.
These are fundamental changes in the American charter and character. Biden has fully embraced them. His Build Back Better proposal was a giant leap toward transforming the political economy of the United States into a European style social democracy. That didn’t pass. However, smaller but still significant strides have been taken with the fraudulently named Inflation Reduction Act and various administrative measures. Biden’s staffing and nominations have been strongly driven by identity politics, and publicly and consciously so.
Simply put, in 2024 Biden has no credibility pitching himself to independents and disaffected Republicans as a safe, moderate, deal-making Democrat who will return American politics to a pre-Trump norm. To accept Biden as an alternative to Trump in 2024, these swing voters will have to accept a Democratic president working hard to finish the job of fundamentally changing the American charter and character.
For Never Trumpers, that might be a hard but necessary pill to swallow. But not all the independents and disaffected Republicans who gave Biden his margin of victory are Never Trumpers. Most of them, in fact, are probably just Don’t-Like Trumpers. Trump has a case to make to them in 2024 about the stakes for the country that was more speculative in 2020.
Even though Trump has become even more erratic and boorish, he could win a 2024 rematch.
This analysis assumes that Biden wins the Democratic nomination and Trump the Republican one. That’s a rematch at least two-thirds of the country really, really doesn’t want. Yet, at this point, it appears all but inevitable.
And that points to one fundamental change in the American political system that is becoming increasingly urgent. Our two-party system has become an obstacle to good governance and civic cohesion. Somehow, someway, we need to move to a post-partisan system of governance.