This is the kind of topic about which liberals generally don’t want good news. They want to worry. They assign to their right-wing foes a strength and formidability that they never see on their own side (I’m often as guilty of this as anybody, I confess). They lack faith in the common sense and decency of the average voter. They want, on some level, to think, or at least to fear, that disaster is around the corner.
I rise today to fight that tendency. Yes, it’s early. Yeah, it’s premature. But I’m going to say: The signs I see so far? They suggest to me that Donald Trump (a) is going to win the GOP nomination and (b) stands a very good chance of leading his party to an epic wipeout next November.
To understand this, you have to open your eyes to things that can be hard to see as they unfold in real time. But they’re there, and they tell us this: Trump is much more extreme, much more unhinged, much more exposed than he was in 2016. Pay attention to what you see.
The most recent example, perhaps small, but I think nevertheless telling, consists of his recent “truths” on Truth Social. He posted Barack Obama’s current address. Think about that. That’s an invitation to someone to go try to shoot him. And sure enough, someone did. Shortly after Trump’s post, Tyler Taranto showed up with a machete, two guns, and 400 rounds of ammunition. He appears to have reposted Trump’s post. He was arrested, and Obama’s block in D.C. is of course heavily protected, but none of that changes the fact that a former president of the United States pretty obviously was egging his supporters to commit violence against another former president.
Friday morning came the related news that federal prosecutors working on the classified documents case against Trump are facing threats from MAGA-heads. They’re posting the names of federal prosecutors online. These people’s blocks are not under heavy Secret Service protection. What if one of them gets murdered? And what are the odds, given the way Trump has riled these people up, that if he’s convicted before Election Day, there won’t be violence, at least of the generalized sort and at worst of the targeted-execution variety?
That’s the first thing. Here’s a second.
More from Trump’s Truth Social feed: “Does anybody really believe that the COCAINE found in the West Wing of the White House, very close to the Oval Office, is for the use of anyone other than Hunter & Joe Biden.” Hunter Biden wrote in his memoir that he’s been clean since 2019; but let’s face it, when one hears “cocaine in the White House,” he does leap to mind. But then, Trump throws Joe Biden in there. Who thinks Joe Biden does blow? It’s unhinged, and it’s a sign that Trump’s hold on reality, always tenuous, is vaporizing and that he’s even more emboldened now to say even more outrageous things than he said in 2016, which after all is the logic of outrage: It has to get more extreme in order to continue to have shock value. What even more unhinged thing might he be capable of saying on a debate stage next fall?
Combine these recent developments with the things we already know, we’ve already seen. I wrote in our June cover story that Trump’s toxic rhetoric far exceeded where he was going in 2016. If you can’t see the difference between “Drain the swamp” (2016, and something any right-populist could say) and “I am your revenge” (the words of a megalomaniacal authoritarian demagogue), then you need some history lessons. I think here also of the Trump we saw in that infamous CNN town hall. He was totally out of control. I kept watching that and thinking: Is there any chance, I mean any chance, that the centrist soccer mom from the Milwaukee suburbs who took a flier on him in 2016 against Hillary Clinton is going to want to see this deranged, blubbering, vain peacock back in the White House?
I know, I know. Biden’s age. The “wrong direction” poll numbers are bad. A recession could hit, although experts have backed off that concern somewhat. Still, I take all that seriously, believe me.
But I’ll tell you this. If I were a Republican, I’d be scared shitless about what Trump might do to my party next year. The presidential election won’t be a runaway, because that isn’t how it works anymore. But I’d be very worried that Trump loses all the states he lost in 2020—and by a little more than he lost them the last time—plus maybe North Carolina, which would bump Biden’s Electoral College margin up to 319–219, which in a headline sounds like a rout. And the somewhat higher margins in Arizona, Georgia, et al. would foreclose any serious attempt to cry foul. Swing voters just wouldn’t buy it.
Democrats are feeling pretty confident about retaking the House. The Senate looks a lot tougher. But if Senate candidates in purple and even a couple reddish-to-red states are wedded to a standard-bearer who looks, to your average person, not just unpreferable but outright dangerous, who knows? The normal swing-voter reflex is to think, “OK, I’ll vote Biden, but I’ll balance it out by voting for a Republican for Senate” (there aren’t as many swing voters as there once were, but they exist). I’m positing that Trump could be so bad that those voters decide en masse that now is the time to punish the Republican Party and demand that they wipe the slate clean, ditch Trump, and grow up. (And, of course, throw in the anti-Dobbs backlash, which should give Democratic Senate candidates two to four points nearly everywhere.)
I’m not urging overconfidence. Politicians should always run like they’re 10 points behind. I’m just saying: Pay attention to what you see. And what we’re seeing so far is Donald Trump being far more extreme than he was in 2016 and alienating a huge chunk of the voters who bought his snake oil back then.
This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.