By David M. Greenwald
On January 6, 2021, the worst-case scenario played out—almost—as supporters of Trump, angry and inspired and instigated by the losing President, went on a rampage at the Capitol. We have been picking up the pieces of that ever since.
Democracy faced in the US an existential threat. The paramount cornerstone of a democracy is the notion of a peaceful transfer of power and the idea that losers of elections will accept the will of the people and abide by the results.
That was threatened by the conduct of the departing president. He used every means he could muster—including some that are clearly illegal and could present future liability for him—to overturn the results.
While the institutions held, there were clear cracks—particularly if deniers were able to seize key parts of the machinery during the next election.
That was a real fear. What would happen if people, who actually are in charge of counting the votes and certifying the results, refuse to do so?
This was not a theoretical threat. We saw how Trump was able to strain an unsuspecting system. But while the system was caught unprepared, it was fortunate because the opponents of the system were also unprepared for the moment and did not have their people in key places.
During the lead up to the election, I saw a tweet that I think nailed the problem. This election would not be the election where fascism would win, it would be the last time we were able to turn it back.
On that score, we succeeded. While all too many election deniers won on November 8, nowhere were they able to, in key battleground states, cease the machinery of elections themselves.
We dodged a bullet. We are not out of the woods by any extent.
Trump comes away the big loser in the election. He received blame for snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory. Some analyses showed that Trump had a net five point drag on the Republican ticket in key battleground races.
Is the writing on the wall? Will this be the straw that finally pulls Republicans away from their Trump-induced trance?
After 2016, I am not willing to count Trump out. Though in a way, this is the third consecutive election he has “lost.” However… in 2018, 2020, and 2022, it was almost a 50-50 split in the country. Trump’s presence was able to, in both 2016 and 2020, rally infrequent voters to confound pollsters.
Now we have a string of events that are quite interesting.
First, we have the announcement that Trump will seek an unprecedented second non-consecutive term. Something that has not occurred in the modern era and the first time a losing nominee has attempted to run in the primary era.
Trump will have to face his toughest rival for the nomination. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida.
After Trump’s poor showing in the midterms and DeSantis’ resounding reelection, polls show a huge shift from Trump to DeSantis.
An Economist-YouGov Poll for instance shows a 46-39 lead for DeSantis among primary voters. A big problem for Trump, his unfavorability is at 52 percent whereas DeSantis is at just 37 percent and has a net positive 41-37, whereas Trump is 41-52.
As one analyst put it, while it is possible that DeSantis is at a high-water mark, Trump, based on the polls alone, is no longer the favorite.
That point was driven home by a NY Post front page that blamed Trump for sabotaging the Republican midterms.
The headline: “Don (who couldn’t build a wall) had a great fall – can all the GOP’s men put the party back together again?”
The headline is not nearly as important as the messenger: Murdoch owns the the Post.
The Guardian reported this week, “Rupert Murdoch has reportedly warned Donald Trump his media empire will not back any attempt to return to the White House, as former supporters turn to the youthful Florida governor Ron DeSantis.”
The good news for Trump, however—he got his favorite weapon reinstated yesterday when “Elon Musk said on Twitter on Saturday that he would reinstate former President Donald J. Trump to the platform as part of a shake-up of the social media service, with Mr. Trump’s account quickly showing up again on the site.”
The bad news is that Trump is facing five major investigations—two of which are being transferred to a special prosecutor to investigate in order to avoid complications from Trump being a candidate.
I know a lot of Democrats would prefer to face Trump than DeSantis at this point. I think that’s a big mistake. Trump remains dangerous to democracy.
Trump has been through a huge amount of scrutiny, while DeSantis has really not had to face the close scrutiny of the press and a high profile political campaign.
In September, CNN reported, “Publicly, DeSantis has straddled the GOP’s divide over the last election as he considers whether to run for president in the next one. He is careful not to alienate voters animated by Trump’s relitigating of 2020, while maintaining credibility with Republicans desperate to talk about something else.”
He rejected “calls for an intrusive Arizona-style review of Florida’s election, but nevertheless championed changes to voting procedures that conspiracists have celebrated as evidence of their growing clout in Tallahassee.”
Moreover, he “recently embarked on a national tour to boost the campaigns of some of the most fervent election deniers nominated by his party this cycle, though he has not joined them in suggesting Trump should still be president.”
My sense, DeSantis is not the same threat to democracy as Trump is. He may well embrace Trumpism, but Trumpism itself is not the threat to democracy.
Can DeSantis stand up to the scrutiny of the press and the pounding that he will receive from Trump? Time will tell. Sadly our democracy may depend on it.