President Donald Trump reacts during a campaign rally in Charlotte, N.C., March 2, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)Despite dire predictions, he has united the GOP and governed as a centrist conservative.
So what had happened to the Democrats’ predicted blue wave that supposedly would rack up huge House majorities and win back the entire Congress? And why did not $1 billion in campaign spending and a 13–1 negative to positive ratio of NBC/MSNBC and CNN media coverage of the presidency neuter Trump or his party after two years of governance? Why did Mueller’s 22-month investigation — and its epigones from the invocation of the 25th Amendment and the Emoluments clauses to the various circuses of Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen, and Michael Avenatti — all fail to derail the Trump presidency?
The answers to those questions are thematic throughout this book. Aside from popular anguish over the way that Democratic senators had savaged Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and worries over another larger immigration caravan of asylum seekers inching toward the southern border, voters in November 2018 and would-be voters in 2020 were and still are uncomfortable with progressive politics and happy with the Trump economic boom. In statewide races of 2018, almost all hard progressive gubernatorial and senatorial candidates, from Florida to Texas, lost, if often narrowly so.
First, Trump’s economic and foreign-policy initiatives since 2017, if examined dispassionately, have been largely those of the centrist conservative agendas that have worked in the past, and have continued to do so in the present. Unlike other past flash-in-the-pan mavericks, such as former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger or Minnesota’s recent governor, Jesse Ventura, Trump adopted traditional conservative issues and learned, if belatedly, to work with the Republican Congress to enact them. In counterintuitive fashion, the provocative and often off-putting Trump proved to be a far more effective uniter of his party than had any prior elected populist maverick.
Second, Americans continued to defy pollsters and pundits, at least at the local and state levels. Even without Trump on the ballot, Americans still were far more likely to voice their anti-Trump sympathies than their pro-Trump affinities — a lesson from 2016 that the media continued to ignore (or perhaps they dreamed it could not possibly occur twice in succession), despite their own habit of demonizing those who supported Trump and sanctifying those who despised him. As a result, many of the state and local pre-election polls in the key senatorial and gubernatorial races in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Missouri proved inaccurate.
Finally, the public weariness with political correctness, the desire for pushback against the administrative state, and the turnoff from progressives’ 24/7 venom had not yet peaked. True, most of the country continued to see Trump as near-toxic chemotherapy, but half the nation also felt that such strong medicine was still necessary to deal with lethal tumors of the status quo.
As 2019 ended, the only mystery was whether the Democratic Party, after its failed rage of 2016 and its mixed midterm record of 2018, would learn from its errors. Again, many centrist Democratic House candidates, lots of them with military records, did well in the midterms, while solidifying the allegiances of minority and educated suburban women voters. In contrast, most blinkered Democrats in swing states — who as radical progressives doubled down on abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, promoting Medicare for all, cancelling student debt, and impeaching Trump — faltered.