The most pressing and basic political question confronting our country right now is probably this simple one: What if Donald Trump wins the election in 2024? Either by fair means or foul, what if he ends up again in the White House? What will happen in this country? We asked a number of people from both parties and across different disciplines to tell us what we might expect.
Sen. Cory Booker
I’m concerned about all the steps that are being taken that are removing the safeguards that we had in the last election. And so what my worry is, is that the election comes and because of those anti-democratic changes or those voting rights changes, that we have real disagreements … that we end up having politicians making the decisions as opposed to people that are really independent…. It’s just the fragility of our democracy now, because a lot of the states whose leadership is denying that the last election has been fair and denying that Joe Biden is president, these folks are now trying to take measures that, should the same events happen next time, they’re there to try to strip the rightful winner of office because they just want it to be Donald Trump, no matter what.
Professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University
It took Trump almost all of his four years to figure out just how some of the levers of government worked. By the end, however, he had begun to realize the power of personnel moves and executive action, particularly in foreign policy. So if Trump wins in 2024, I would anticipate that he would pursue his foreign policy vision in an unconstrained manner. This would include U.S. withdrawals from NATO and security agreements with Japan and South Korea for starters. Withdrawal from the World Trade Organization would also happen. There would also be a wholesale purge of civil servants in national security bureaucracies—essentially what happened at the State Department under Pompeo, but on steroids. Trump’s political appointments—assuming GOP control of the Senate and continued GOP subservience to Trump—would make his subpar first-term appointees look like a team of George Kennans in contrast.
I believe that if the bipartisan, voter-led, pro-democracy coalition that saved us in 2020 comes together again, that worst-case scenario can and will be avoided…. State officials had a critical part to play in that, since elections are national events that are resolved at the states, and we’re going to need all of them to do that again and to work even harder. But we do have a model for doing that, and I do think it can work again. If we all work hard together, it can happen.
Law professor at University of California, Irvine
The worst-case scenario is that we don’t have a fair election—that Donald Trump or someone following Donald Trump’s playbook does something that is going to lead to some kind of situation where the loser is declared the winner of the election…. That would mean the end of American democracy, at least for a time.… I think the most likely thing is some kind of legalistic argument that could try to have a state legislature overturn the election results and have Congress ratify that change. It was kind of the strategy that Trump tried in 2020 but was unsuccessful. If there’s a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and Kevin McCarthy is called upon to accept fraudulent election results, I’m not sure what he would do.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger
If [Trump] wins legitimately, in theory, that’s democracy in action. The thing that would be concerning to me is, obviously, last time he came in with not a real understanding of how government works and how to use it to your advantage, and now he does. He came in and hired non-loyalists, and now he will [hire loyalists]. But on the broader question of democracy, my biggest concern is … more about the second people lose faith in their vote. That’s when democracy fails. That’s the only thing that has to work—you have to know that you’re gonna vote and that your vote is going to count. And the outcome doesn’t matter for democracy. What matters is that you know that works. And that’s why I’m so angry at what Trump has done. He’s convinced half the country that democracy doesn’t work for them.
Professor at the University of Texas School of Law
He will become president again because of the Electoral College. I don’t think that anybody seriously believes that he could win a national popular vote election, simply because he would lose by many millions of votes in California and New York for starters, and even if he would take all of the small states … he would still be losing by millions of votes. He won in 2016 only because of the Electoral College. He came close in 2020 only because of the Electoral College, and he would win in 2024 only because of the Electoral College…. The saving grace of Donald Trump is his incompetence. What we should really fear is a competent Trumpista, and there are some waiting in the wings who would cheer, at least privately, if Donald Trump died tomorrow.… A Republican ascendance would mean even fuller capture of the federal judiciary than there is now.… And so if you have a unified Republican government, then you have to be terrified at what legislation they would be able to pass.
Heather Cox Richardson
Historian and professor at Boston College
If Trump, or someone like him, wins election in 2024, I would expect to see the end of American democracy. If that sounds apocalyptic, it’s worth remembering that we have had just such a scenario in the United States before, in the American South between 1880 and 1965. In those decades, although there were always elections, state legislatures had rigged the electoral system so that white Democrats would always win. Essentially, the region was a one-party state that had abandoned the rule of law.… It was the realization that the United States had abandoned the rule of law that inspired lawmakers to protect democracy in the 1950s and the 1960s through a series of civil rights acts and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Now, by rolling those protections back, Republican-dominated legislatures are threatening to re-create that one-party system, but this time, the demographic skewing of our Electoral College means those states can install a president. The one-party system of the early twentieth century South will become national. I don’t think enough people realize how bad it will be.
Former Trump White House communications director
To me, I think we are in the same state that we were in, frankly, in the late 1930s. But the bad guys have won a few rounds here. Charles Lindbergh, Father Coughlin, Huey Long, the America First movement, and Joseph P. Kennedy—these sort of racist and radical fringe people didn’t win. Franklin Roosevelt won…. I mean Trump’s shortcomings, there are many, but one of them that’s glaring is that he’s very disorganized. The January 6 insurrection, they’ve got him dead to rights in terms of the criminal intent. He had direct criminal intent to overthrow the election and to blow up and rip up democracy. But he’s so woefully disorganized that he couldn’t get it done, he couldn’t pull it off. But what about next time? What if they’re more organized next time? What if they’ve figured out a way with all these voter restrictions to really curb the Black and brown people who want to vote? They tell them “well, too bad,” there’s one voting booth in your district for 10,000 people, and the whites can have one voting booth for every 600 people.
Former Republican National Committee chairman
Well, first off, just to be clear, Donald Trump’s name shouldn’t be on a ballot for anything, period. And to an extent that it is and he should win, it would be cataclysmic. People need to fundamentally understand it’s not even a question of appreciating it anymore. You just know this as fact that if Donald Trump wins reelection, his four years would be consumed with revenge. His four years would be consumed with validating his lie. His four years would be consumed with retribution against those who, in his view, wronged him, and [he] would then corrupt the instruments of power in Washington, from Congress—because he’d have a compliant, complicit House and Senate Republicans who would do every bidding that he put in front of them—and then corrupt the various institutions that would be required to execute his revenge, which would include the Department of Justice, etc. So I think we just need to be clear about what this means. A megalomaniac operates from one position and one position only: himself.
I think it’ll be the last presidential race that we have that resembles anything in our lifetime. But I’m not really sure [of] the difference between Donald Trump and [Florida Governor Ron] DeSantis. Some make the case that DeSantis would be worse, because he has all of Trump’s lack of any democratic principles, but he’s more slickly packaged, and probably smarter. All of this is an outgrowth of the complete collapse of the Republican Party. Our system’s designed so that major parties should be the circuit breaker, and Republicans never pull the circuit breaker.
Rep. Bennie Thompson
Given what I’ve seen so far with the [January 6] committee, and the fact that there was an absolute disregard for policy, procedures, rules, it will be an absolute travesty for this country. And the democracy that we’ve all come to love and appreciate would just be in shambles.
Mary L. Trump
Author of Too Much and Never Enough
In some ways, a second term will be much like his first term—a systematic attempt to undo the policy achievements of his predecessor. It is the differences between the first and the not-improbable second term that should concern us even more. Over the last six years, Republican leadership has been presented with many off-ramps away from Donald and taken none of them—there’s every reason to believe that Republicans in Congress will have moved even further to the right. If Donald regains the Oval Office, that would mean, once again, that the justice system failed to hold him accountable. This will embolden him to an unprecedented degree. And while Donald signs off on every authoritarian, anti-democratic policy the Republicans in Congress try to enact, he will focus on grievance and, above all, vengeance. If you think his first four years were bad, buckle up.
Incoming president of the Leadership Conference, civil rights lawyer, and MSNBC analyst
We know that Donald Trump told outright lies in his first term, spread and supported disinformation, and used the organs of government to feed his own interests. Extremism and hate became its own pandemic under Trump’s self-indulgent prodding. And authoritarian leaders find him a friendly ally. Why would we expect another four-year dose of the snake oil he peddles to be any less poisonous? I can only assume a reelection would make him even more deadly to our democracy.