It appears the coming days will be filled with attempts to persuade courts to overturn the designation of Joe Biden as president-elect. Convincing courts is one thing; millions of Americans are already believers.
The 2020 result stinks to high heaven, wrapped in the stench of a corrupt counting system filled with partisan mischief made possible by insufficient transparency. Were there enough improper votes tallied to deny Donald Trump a proper victory? I have no idea. But that is an uncertainty that should not cloud an election in 21st Century America.
Voter fraud was not invented this year. It existed in 2016, but did not cost Trump the election then. It existed in both Obama wins, but those margins were sufficient that it was not a deciding factor. We may be dealing with the first election that has delivered the wrong result.
Energetic teams are fanned out across contested states, deployed to make their cases. Those efforts will either succeed or not. If they do, it’s another chapter in the rollercoaster ride that is 2020. If not, it’s time to assess what lies ahead for Trumpism.
What does the term mean? Is it devotion to Trump’s policies, or an embrace of the whole package of results, styles and behaviors he brought to the table? That probably depends on whom you ask.
During this hyper-focused challenge to the election, supporting the president will be defined by many as nothing short of total devotion to the certainty that he has been wronged. This misses the large percentage of his voters who harbor that suspicion but do not expect it to be confirmed in the days ahead. If MAGA nation finds itself celebrating a reversal for the ages, we’ll revisit at that time. Meanwhile, the air is filled with speculation as to where the Trump base goes if it has to sit through a Biden inauguration in 10 weeks.
The short answer: nowhere. The 70-plus-million who voted to continue this presidency will not crumble into a dispirited coalition ripe for plucking by the establishment old order. No constituency is monolithic, but a key element of Trump support was a staunch determination not to fall back into the weak-willed half-measures of Republican governance since Reagan.
Old-school GOP malcontents who plotted to sabotage Trump have been awarded the Biden win they always sought. Some will now attempt to wangle their way back into influence by asserting some measure of conservatism. This will not go well. First, it will not be believed. Second, even if some in the pseudo-right corridors of Trump hatred manage to manipulate their way back into conservative good graces, it will become immediately clear that they will be advocating things Trump would have fought for in his second term, revealing the ultimate truth all along—that policies never mattered to these people. It was always a personal grudge, a tantrum delivered when his methods made them seem weak and irrelevant.
If the January Georgia runoffs yield a Republican Senate majority, there will be a firewall against the adventures of the Biden-Harris agenda. If you thought Mitch McConnell enjoyed a reputation boost in the Trump era, crowned by his stewardship of the Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court confirmation, wait until he’s the prime figure blocking the policies of a Democrat White House for the next two years.
That’s right, two years. That’s when Trump nation will get its first opportunity to flex its frustrated muscle by delivering the House of Representatives back into Republican hands. That’s no guarantee, but it would be an echo of the 1994 revolution after the first Bill Clinton win and the 2010 wave after the ascendancy of Barack Obama. Those shifts were 54 and 63 seats respectively. In 2022, the Democrat majority might be 10 or fewer, with the battles fought across a redistricted map drawn largely by Republicans who have maintained control of key state legislatures.
If conservative wind blows through fresh sails on November 8, 2022, it will also propel the candidacies of a wide-open presidential field looking to correct the 2020 result with a 2024 reply. But we might pause on just how wide-open that field might be if Trump himself is up for a sequel.
The mind reels at the prospect.
A second Trump term would have been capped by a crowded field of would-be successors containing Vice President Mike Pence and a list of names and faces both familiar and new. But if a diet of Big Macs and a blast of COVID-19 can’t slow him at 74, what’s to keep him from gliding down that Trump Tower escalator again at 77 in the summer following the midterms?
That will depend on the signals given off by his post-presidency. Will he rule out a Grover Cleveland-style non-consecutive second term? Will he announce he’s running the night of the Biden inaugural balls? Or will he keep the nation wondering during a couple of years of TV appearances, Twitter activism and rounds of golf?
If he decides to run again in 2024, it will be fairly asked if his victorious 2016 base and the jilted 2020 base will have much interest in anyone else. If conservative America seeks a return to Trumpism, who better to deliver it than its namesake?
If he opts out, conservative voters will get a chance to choose just what elements of his legacy they seek to revisit in the form of other candidates, none of whom, for better or worse, will replicate him. I heard sometimes from people who said they wanted the Trump agenda with less of the snarky tweets, the sharp elbows, the New York brashness. But those elements that left one voter lukewarm might have been the inspiration for two others.
If the coming years are spent evaluating what life looks like in the wake of Trump, it seems the stage is set for a struggling, ineffectual Biden term. Whether or not he is able to tame the more radical corners of his administration (starting with his vice president), the horizon holds ample opportunities for a Republican Party energized by Trumpism to stay in fighting mode in Congress and the states.
Add the booster shot of midterm success in 2022, and history may view a disillusioning 2020 result as a reset button that cleared the way for whole new avenues of conservative optimism and success.