The 2020 election remains uncertain. By all accounts, Joe Biden is a clear favorite to win against Donald Trump, maintain house control, and coin flip against controlling the senate. While enough ink has been spilled on the improbable (Trump wins Florida and the remaining rust-belt coin flips), it’s important to prepare for the storm clouds which rest on America’s horizon; a repeat of 2008-2016.
A Right Wing Narrative
After Trump the republican party will need to be re-branded. The decision to trade ideological rigor for temporary electoral victory has a price to be paid when the figurehead meets his end. He either loses power in 2020 or in 2024, it really doesn’t matter. Trumps branded republicanism will forever be known as a knock-off version of the Reagan revolution. Reagan was able to align a careful coalition of Christian conservatives, business interests, and white America under an ideological argument of free trade, reduced government power, and aggressive foreign policy. As a result of his strong ideological support (libertarianism, foreign policy hawks, social conservatism) his movement changed the party for decades to come. Giving it arguments and philosophical support which would outlast him.
In contrast, Trumps vision for the republican party is inherently anti-establishment. It was against NAFTA and the TPP, pro tariffs (‘we are being cheated on trade’), against interventionist foreign policy (against Iraq, against Syria, and all other foreign interventions), and unwilling or incapable of producing domestic policy provisions aside from tax cuts (we will repeal and replace Obama care with… still waiting) and broad promises on infrastructure which we’ve never seen. While the nature of being democrat or republican has always had a regional element to it, stripping away the ideological backing of his case forces the right wing to remain hollow. That unholy alliance of poor and wealthy rural whites has resulted in a reductive electoral strategy, predicated on threats against fictional opponents which can only appear credible in an echo chamber (i’m still waiting for the admission that 8 years of Obama hasn’t resulted in a socialist America, but its obvious that was never the point).
A Stagnate ‘Principled’ Opposition
Given this, returning to an ideological framework will not be easy for the republican party, and in my view its almost impossible. The short-term rewards of single-issue voting (NRA and Abortion) are powerful motivators for both its media arm and the electorate which appears all to willing to throw away it’s so thinly-veiled desperation over deficits and free trade. Fox News positioned itself well as the opposition network against Obama; weaving in reasonable criticism with the ridiculous, it built itself as the ‘alternative fact’ network to reach an increasingly ignorant base.
There is no reason to believe that a Biden presidency will suddenly be immune from all the strategies and techniques employed by the right-wing this past decade. Given how effective Fox News, Breitbart, Facebook, and other media outlooks have been at removing credibility from any source (and how dependent their financial health is on continuing to do so), it is almost certain that even if democrats win the senate in 2020, it would lose again in 2022. The thrust of this narrative is that Fox News itself can continue to remain profitable and influential even if relegated as a permanent opposition network, catering to a loyal 20% minority. The right wing of our future country is one against the establishment, against elites, and against the ‘out of touch’. While some demographics are ripe for a conservative take over (Hispanics and blacks in particular) it seems unlikely that republicans can pivot to capture them without a charismatic minority voice to lead the charge. Until that day, they will fundamentally be a party of the rural white America because making it anything but that will require a complete rewrite of the republican party. The objective of this movement is to convince enough people that both candidates, no matter their background or policies, are equally valid; forever rejecting the notion by Plato that a seasoned captain should navigate a ship, and instead insist that such a seasoned captain would be equally qualified as a semi-famous sophist because at one point the captain misplaced some sensitive letters or had a son which profited under a Persian merchants benevolence.
An incumbent democrat under this framework is a threatened democrat. And for all the forces in play, that is enough for the next 4 years to make a living.
A Fractured Left
While Trump has united Americas left wing, his absence will almost certainly shatter it. The unity of progressives and centrist democrats will rise in fall in exact opposite to the democratic parties political power. The failure of the Obama administration was in allowing Hilary Clinton to remain the heir apparent, new democratic talent was muted and, as we saw in the recent primary, not prepared to run for office; resulting in a necessary return of Biden to reunite the factions. Because these unwilling allies are factions based primarily on ideological considerations backed by regional splits (and not the other way around), then the democratic party seems doomed by lesser-evil posturing. If a progressive is some future nominee in 2024 (say a younger Bernie sanders), the democratic center will shift right and vote against an incumbent party. If a centrist is nominated (say, Kamala Harris or some other) then the danger of low voter enthusiasm is high because a center-right candidate will alienate the left in a futile attempt at courting right leaning independents. As an incumbent a Biden-esque candidate is incredibly vulnerable to tomorrows rightwing, troll farm driven click-bait, convincing independents to vote against incumbents is working with the grain in today’s world.
Saving the republican party is possible, but it requires a shift away from personality driven policy. Economic nationalism is an ideological blackhole, based on electoral reductivism that will only work if democracy is eradicated. The fact of the matter is that most minority voters trend center-right, so the votes exist to capture staunch Catholics and social conservatives who are willing to be single issue voters, so long as their mouthpiece isn’t openly racist. However, they are currently so alienated by the rhetoric of spineless republican politicians that they break democrat out of necessity. A charismatic minority voice which is anti-left, and rural born, is a prime candidate for the future of America’s right; however, with the failure of Marco Rubio’s candidacy in 2016, it may be a few more years before such a figure emerges.
The democratic party in contrast seems forced into a nash-equilibrium of stagnation, the irreconcilable differences of the progressive wing and its centrist loadstar result in a voter participation problem that will dissolve whatever fragile unity exists the moment their combined power appears insurmountable. Complacency, subsidized by favorable demographics and a short-sighted rightwing, have kept U.S. elections unnecessarily competitive for decades. The future of democratic centrist rests on the creation of a new center for American politics, converting irreligious republicans and corporate interests. An alternative path is to resolve the single issue of abortion; which, just like the first path, will not occur until demographics shift and Christianity in America is diminished to levels of European religiosity.
Unfortunately the political future of America is a dark one. The winner of the next election is of only short term consequence to the inevitable turmoil that 2024 will bring, hopefully new leadership can appear and lead us through the storm.