Exiled by Main Street: Will Republican Voter Self-Suppression Manifest Itself in 2020?

Unlike his affair with Stormy Daniels, he may not get lucky again.

A year ago, Bernard L. Fraga, Brian Schaffner, Jesse Rhodes and Sean McElwee observed in the Washington Post that “[W]hat’s clear is that the jump in white turnout in key swing states and drop in black turnout [in the 2016 presidential election] may well have handed the presidency to [Donald] Trump.” What if there’s a reversal of fortune in 2020, and a significant chunk of Trump’s fanbase simply stays home?

Last week, I raised the prospect of a scandal-scarred Trump running for re-election in 2020 against Elizabeth Warren, and demagoguing his way to victory by repeating the “Pocahontas” nonsense over and over. What if repeating “Pocahontas” over and over doesn’t work in 2020? What if a critical mass of Trump supporters, disappointed by his broken promises and finally cognizant of the fact that the wall will likely never be built, simply decide not to turn out?

Voter suppression is a moral atrocity; voter self-suppression is another matter. Remember the late right-wing activist Paul Weyrich’s 1980 observation about voting power:

Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome. Good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

Notwithstanding how Weyrich’s words were used as a de facto justification for right-wing voter-suppression efforts over the last three decades, Weyrich was, frankly, right on the merits. When the members of one party’s base don’t vote, and the members of another party’s base turn out in force, the latter base will obviously be in charge.

Imagine how much stronger our country would have been—stronger together, if you will—had a critical mass of Trump-inclined voters simply stayed home in 2016. Now imagine if a significant percentage of Trumpists—worn down by the tweeting, finally facing the reality that the factory and mining jobs aren’t coming back, embarrassed by the Executive’s erections—simply stay home in 2020.

Let’s disabuse ourselves of the notion that Trumpists will, in any significant measure, vote for the Democratic candidate in 2020. If you have had it driven into your head for decades that Democrats are the party of “higher taxes,” “bigger government,” “political correctness,” “gun confiscation,” “identity politics” and “abortion on demand,” you’re not going to vote (D) no matter how disappointed or disgusted you are by the Donald. The eventual Democratic presidential nominee should not waste valuable campaign time attempting to lure the folks who intentionally ignored Trump’s lack of White House qualifications the last time around to the side of sanity. In fact, it would make strategic sense not to do so, and to focus on mobilizing Democratic base turnout to the greatest extent possible.

In 2020, disappointed Trumpists who realize that the Democratic candidate is not going to bend over backwards to appease their “anxiety” will be left with three choices: stick with Trump (and risk getting screwed again for four more years if he’s re-elected), back a right-wing third-party candidate, or stay home. If the Democratic base turns out in force in 2020, it may not matter which path disappointed Trumpists choose. However, if Trump loses in part because the folks who bought his BS the last time around decided that they won’t get fooled again, think about the massive blow such an outcome would inflict upon Trump’s ego.

If enough Trump voters decide to skip the 2020 presidential election, it will validate history’s view of the 2016 election as a fluke, an unhappy byproduct of a quarter-century of right-wing and mainstream-media smear jobs designed to gin up as much hatred as possible towards Hillary and Bill Clinton. If Trump can’t pull off a second scam, it will confirm for posterity that Trump was more lucky than good the first time he ran for the White House.

If Trumpist voter self-suppression results in the White House returning to Democratic control, it will represent a moment of crisis for the right, in particular right-wing media. After all, if whipping up as much racial and cultural animus as possible can’t keep the White House in Republican hands, what will? Take away the successful promotion of bigotry for political purposes, and what does the right have left?

We shall see if Trump’s people turn out in force to support him in 2020–and what excuses Republicans will come up with if they do not.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.