There continues to be a group of liberals who are afraid that Democrats won’t take the candidacy of Donald Trump seriously. That concern was recently articulated by Van Jones in a video he posted to Facebook. While it’s clear to me that the Clinton campaign isn’t taking anything for granted, there are some issues these concerns raise that are worth discussing.
The case people like Jones are making is that too many liberals are assuming a landslide election and are thereby depressing turnout on the left with a suggestion that it’s over, no need to worry. Jones says this is the same mistake Republicans made in underestimating Trump’s appeal – which is why he prevailed in the primaries.
Let’s take a minute to unpack all of that. First of all, taking the prospect of Trump’s candidacy seriously doesn’t require us to ignore the facts about a Republican Party that is in deep trouble. For example, it is a fact that the two living Republican presidents, both named Bush, as well as the most powerful Republican in Congress (Paul Ryan) have refused to endorse the presumptive Republican nominee. That is unprecedented – at least in modern times. It is also a fact, as Martin pointed out yesterday, that Trump will not get a lot of the big money support that Republicans have typically been able to count on. There is also the fact that someone like Bill Kristol is meeting with Mitt Romney to discuss the possibilities of an independent candidate. Even if it is too late for that, the fact that it is still under consideration suggests that there is a big problem. Finally, there is the fact, as Martin also pointed out yesterday, that Republicans already faced an uphill battle in the electoral college long before Trump came along. The presumptive nominee has managed to go out of his way to offend every constituency that is necessary to turn that kind of thing around. Either the RNC was ignorant when they published their post 2012 autopsy, or the Party is now going in the opposite direction that would be required to win a presidential contest.
Those are simply the facts. In assessing this presidential election, it would not be “reality-based” to ignore them. That doesn’t mean that this election will be the kind of landslide we saw in in 1972 or 1984. American voters are probably too tribally polarized for that to happen anytime soon. But to ignore the fact that Republicans are in big trouble right now would be an abdication of our responsibility to tell the truth.
The second thing that is problematic about Jones’ argument is that the general election could play out the same way we observed in the Republican primary. Greg Sargent has been pointing out the problem with that line of thinking for awhile now.
First, acting like a full blown ass may appeal to those GOP primary voters who equate Trump’s vow of mass deportations and Muslim bans, and his nonstop belittling of immigrants and women, with mindlessly defined “strength” and “tell like it is” forthrightness. But key constituencies in the general election audience will not see things in such simplistic terms. Trump is already viewed unfavorably by enormous majorities of women, nonwhites, young voters, and college educated whites.
Second, Democrats will not face many of the constraints that prevented Trump’s rivals from fully unmasking Trump’s xenophobia and bigotry to their benefit. Many Republican voters agreed with Trump on matters Mexican and Muslim, while majorities of the American people don’t.
Finally, I’m certainly not hearing a chorus of Democrats who are suggesting that it’s over, no one needs to worry. To point to facts is not a call to complacency. Ignoring them in an effort to fan the flames of fear is what Republicans do – not Democrats.