The Race That No One Can Win

A year ago I was confidently predicting that neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump would be on the 2024 presidential election ballot. The Democrats would be crazy to nominate Biden, and the Republicans would be crazy to nominate Trump. And yet, with the caucus and primary season about to start, here we are. With no sign that the Democrats have a way to get Biden off the ballot, and with mainstream Republicans like Tom Emmer and Tom Cotton lining up behind Trump, we seem destined for an election that neither candidate can possibly win.

In the Wall Street Journal, Barton Swaim writes about attending a Trump rally in Iowa and about the state of the race. His thoughts are similar to mine:

I spoke to many people who regarded the four criminal indictments of Mr. Trump as proof that he is the man the left fears most. Jerry Donavan, a machinist from Des Moines, answered my question about the indictments with a question of his own: Why did I think the left wanted so badly to destroy Mr. Trump? When I failed to answer, he said, “Exactly.”

For a while I thought the Democrats were persecuting Trump, believing that it would keep him in the headlines, arouse sympathy among Republicans, and lead to the GOP nominating its weakest candidate. Now I think they just can’t help themselves.

The Democratic and media resistance, for its part, appears readier even than in 2016 to count Mr. Trump a would-be dictator rather than a legitimate political figure. An edition of the Atlantic was given to the question of Mr. Trump’s dictatorial propensities. In the Washington Post Robert Kagan wrote a 6,000-word essay contending that a second-term Mr. Trump won’t be checked by countervailing institutions and so will become America’s first dictator.

This is profoundly stupid. The president does not have dictatorial powers, and he cannot simply announce “I am a dictator.” And in any event, we have four years of experience of Trump as president, and he was the least authoritarian of recent chief executives. It was Barack Obama who exercised power most illegitimately by issuing illegal executive orders. [See David Bernstein’s Lawless: The Obama Administration’s Unprecedented Assault on the Constitution and the Rule of Law.]

And in the context of their own behavior, the Democrats’ attacks on Trump as a norm-shattering politician are laughable:

The Never Trump alarmists never bother to acknowledge the left’s antidemocratic and extraconstitutional behavior in recent years—the attempt to get rid of a president by falsely claiming he’d conspired with Russia; proposals to pack the Supreme Court and add states to the union merely to add Senate seats; the campaign to smear Brett Kavanaugh; the false claim by 51 former intelligence officials that Hunter Biden’s laptop was Russian disinformation; the decisions to bar Mr. Trump from the Colorado and Maine ballots on grounds that he is guilty of a crime with which he hasn’t been charged.

And yet, however weak Trump and Biden may be, if they are the nominees one of them will have to win. What if it is Trump?

This newspaper’s Holman Jenkins has surmised that these self-dramatizing resistors are consciously justifying their own further unconstitutional and undemocratic behavior if Mr. Trump wins a second term.

I think that is true. It is hard to foresee how a second Trump term would play out, given the all-out resistance that the Left would mount.

Swaim concludes:

I wished they [Trump’s fans] could see what I see, or that I could see what they see. What they see, I guess, is a wiser, savvier President Trump foiling his enemies and setting America on a better course. What I see is a catastrophe in which cultural VIPs in government and the media give themselves license to ruin a duly elected president, and his fans, refusing to take it a second time, responding with incomprehending rage.

I’m not sure what Mr. Trump sees. He knows that his enemies’ insane need to defeat him by nonelectoral means tends to fortify his support, and he encourages them to indulge their dumbest instincts. He may ride their foolishness all the way to the White House.

As a matter of cosmic justice, the Democrats, particularly Mr. Biden, deserve a Trump victory in 2024. They have done everything possible to ensure his nomination—funding his preferred candidates, no matter how crazy, defaming his sane Republican opponents, hounding him with spurious lawsuits. They assumed he was unelectable. Thanks to them, he isn’t. He will likely win the nomination.

And, as a consequence of Mr. Biden’s plenary incompetence and perverse refusal to exit the scene, Mr. Trump may win the presidency. Then the real fun starts. Happy days are here again.

That is pretty much how I see it too, except that I don’t foresee much fun in a second Trump term.

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