The Republican Pecking Order

          I have no insight into whether Trump will run for president in 2024, but I am confident that if he does not, the announcement will come as late as possible. Trump wants to be a center of attention and that ends when we know that he is not a candidate. This, of course, presents a problem for other Republicans with dreams of the White House. They will have to gear up campaigns before Trump makes clear whether he is a candidate. They will want Trump’s support if he does not run, and it will be interesting to see how this affects their campaigns. They have to proceed in ways that will not offend the ever-mercurial Donald while he dithers. And, of course, if Trump does run, the others, who may already be entered in primaries, must decide whether they will withdraw.

          From the list now of apparent or potential candidates, Ron DeSantis will have the toughest choice about whether to stay in the race. He could wait until 2028 to run, but it could be a liability if he continues to be governor of Florida for those four years. That is because governors, surprise, surprise, must govern. Of course, DeSantis may continue to be identified with policies of anti-gay and voter-fraud measures, but a governor must do more than this kind of pandering. There will be roads to be maintained, schools to be funded, taxes to be levied and collected. In all likelihood, there will be storms and floods and blackouts. There will be illegal immigrants and corruption. There will be crimes and mass shootings. There will be development decisions and red tide. States can’t print money and have to balance their budgets. That almost always requires deals, negotiations, and compromises….you know, governing.

          A governor has to make decisions, and no matter how wise those decisions, not all will agree with them. A danger for a governor is that over time, those who are made unhappy in one area will coalesce with those made unhappy by choices elsewhere. In the four years after 2024, there is a good chance that the unfavorable ratings of DeSantis will increase and weaken his presidential prospects. Just remember my ex-governor, Andrew Cuomo. Three years ago, he looked as if he might be a leading presidential candidate, even though there was much under-the-radar grumbling in the state about him. When one sort of complaint about him got traction, many areas of Cuomo discontent coalesced, and he is gone. DeSantis, if he is as shrewd as he appears, should know of that possibility. Holding off his presidential ambitions beyond 2024 is a big risk for Ron.

          The many Senate Republican wannabes may not wish to wait four more years after 2024 for their presidential chance either, but they don’t face the potential harm that the Florida governor does from the delay. Senate Republicans don’t believe in governing other than passing tax cuts skewed towards the rich, and that has already been done. The goal now is not to improve anything but to prevent legislation, a relatively easy task. Passing laws always involves compromise and for Republicans that would mean working with Democrats, and working with Democrats appears to be a death knell for any Republican’s presidential hopes. Furthermore, good legislation requires study, knowledge, and mastery of detail, and who wants to bother with that?

          The role of a Republican senator these days is not to take a part in governing; instead, the role is merely self-aggrandizing grandstanding. More of that from 2024 to 2028 is unlikely to harm the prospects of Cotton, Cruz, Hawley, Paul and the others, and it might even benefit them. Thus, if Trump runs, the Senate Republicans are not likely to challenge him but will get out of the race they will have already entered.

          However, if Trump runs, I hope that DeSantis stays in. Good political theater could result. The Senatorial and other presidential pretenders might normally proclaim neutrality between the candidates–let the voters decide. But we know that the Trumpian stance is that if you are not with me, you are against me. Cruz, Hawley, Cotton, Paul and others will support Trump because they will want his support, but they will do it with some trepidation. What if DeSantis wins? They might mouth kudos for Trump, but can they attack DeSantis? No one wants to offend someone who might be the winner. This road is also tricky because while other wannabes may pledge loyalty to the Republican party, they will not want a DeSantis president. The Twenty-Second Amendment limits Trump to only one more term. DeSantis could serve eight years as president. Waiting four more years for their presidential shot is one thing for those in waiting; eight is another.

          I also want DeSantis in primaries against Donald because it will be interesting to see Trump attack DeSantis. Donald regularly pulls out the RINO label against Republicans who don’t sufficiently kowtow to him, but it will be hard to stick that epithet on Ron who might be less of a RINO than Trump himself. Furthermore, attacks on DeSantis could produce dangerous Florida sinkholes. The Republican path to a general election victory in 2024 surely requires a Florida win. Trump has not been a politician of nuance, but that may be required to defeat DeSantis for the nomination and still carry the rising-water-and-disappearing-coastline state in November.

          I look forward to two other political possibilities if DeSantis or someone else provides a strong primary challenge to Trump. Republicans have been making it harder to vote. The goal, of course, is to disproportionately burden Democratic voters. That might happen in the general elections, but the recent Texas primaries also show that the “anti-fraud” measure can affect Republicans, too. A higher percentage of absentee ballots were disqualified in Texas than in previous years after stricter identification requirements were enacted and applied, and many of the ballots tossed aside came from counties that overwhelmingly supported Trump. In the general election, more Democratic votes may be suppressed than Republican ones, as intended, but Republican votes, as Texas shows, will be lost in Republican primaries. If primary elections are close, then it might be crucial whether the lost Republican votes helps one candidate more than another. Will any Republican candidate who loses a close primary where ballots have been disqualified complain about the voting laws?

          But the major reason I want Trump in primaries with a strong candidate is that we now know that Trump cannot lose a general election; it can only be stolen from him. Are you going to be surprised if he reacts similarly to a primary loss? What will be the reaction from all those Republicans who now do not denounce the Stop the Steal movement if Trump claims that a primary is fraudulent? Or if DeSantis or another Republican candidate made such a claim after a close primary loss? Let the elephant dung fly!

Democracy Dies When Elections Don’t Matter (continued)

We might not know what we mean by democracy, but we Americans have often felt that our democratic system was under attack. For most of the twentieth century, we found our enemies abroad, or with “foreigners” within our land or with those who had adopted “foreign” ideologies, from communist countries or elsewhere. We had to be especially vigilant against these subversives because they did not operate openly, and their secret cells had to be ruthlessly rooted out lest they spread.

Today, however, the enemies of democracy are different. They are not hidden but public officials and local, state, and national leaders, with their secret sides, but also operating openly. This apparent openness may make us less vigilant concerning the dangers they present to democracy. We are often more concerned about what we fear is in the shadows than what is in front of our eyes. Because our vigilance may lessen when the threats to democracy come from public officials, the menace may in fact be greater.

 The dangers to our democracy are many, but they fall into several categories. The last presidential election had record voter turnouts. That should produce huzzahs for the strength of our democracy. Instead, it has spurred efforts to make it harder to vote, or at least harder for some people to vote. One segment of Americans wants fewer “other” Americans to cast ballots. Of course, when voting is not equally accessible for all, democracy is subverted.

Many do not condemn these voting restrictions but instead applaud them citing justifications without factual bases. Perhaps this acceptance comes easily because similar subversions of the electoral process have been part of the American way for much of our history. Biased literacy tests, poll taxes, and voter intimidation — all part of Jim Crow America that arose after Republicans abandoned Reconstruction — had the effect of suppressing votes. Today the motive is not solely racial but also partisan, but the goals of those wanting to make it harder to vote are similar to those of the past.

We should be concerned when voting is not equal for all of the people. Surprisingly, however, these anti-democratic efforts indicate an acceptance of the central democratic principle that elections do matter. These subverters expect that the majority of the ballots cast will determine the outcome, but they want to reduce the votes for the other side so that they will have the majority. As dangerous as these subverters are, they still accept some democratic norms.

Another attack on our democracy, however, has fewer parallels in our history and is less accepting of democratic tenets. In the last year, we have seen many efforts to undermine faith in our elections. Much of this is akin to the whiny schoolyard kid who can’t accept that he lost a game. His cry: I didn’t lose; somebody must have been cheating.

There’s this strange movement afoot that elections should not be trusted unless our side has won. Polls show that a large percentage of Republicans believe that Joe Biden did not win the last presidential election, and it seems clear that there is no evidence that will change their minds. We have a long history of electing loony people to office. In this tradition, perhaps leading the parade, are Republican officials who were elected to office in 2020, but who maintain that while they were validly elected, Trump, on the same ballot, was shafted.

All of this is seeding the ground for the claim that the results of future elections should not be accepted if our side does not win. These claims may come from across the political spectrum. If it loses, that side will say that the anti-democratic efforts to suppress votes made the elections untrustworthy. The other side, if it loses, will say the election can’t trusted because . . . well, just because they lost.

By itself, the claims of steal or illegitimacy attack democracy. We may not like the results of an election, but if we believe in democracy, we accept the results. I did not like it that Trump won in 2016, and I feel that it is a flaw in our electoral structure that the person who got 3 million fewer votes became president. That result highlighted that our country is not a true democracy, but I accepted that under our system that the now Has Been Guy was your president and mine.

Grumbling about an election is the American way, as I did in 2016, and claims of a stealor illegitimacy may just be another version of that. On the other hand, the cries of theft may truly be a democratic danger if they give many a “reason” to resist, legally and otherwise, the lawful outcome of an election.

Whatever the true purpose of Stop-the-Steal movements, it is clear that the goal of gerrymandering is anti-democratic. With “improved” gerrymandering, more and more elections are becoming mere formalities. And with each cut from another meaningless election, democracy bleeds away.*


*The gerrymander term comes from Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, who pronounced his last name with a hard G, as if the name were Gary. And in the who-would-have-thought-it department, Ronald Reagan knew that and pronounced gerrymander with a hard G, unlike most people, including me and Supreme Court Justices, who use that term.

(Concluded December 22)