“This is why Trump won!”
If you’re anywhere on the left and spend any time talking about politics in public or the quasi-public of social media, you’re likely to have had this phrase lobbed at you. Trump’s victory in 2016 is seen by many as a full bore repudiation of Democratic and leftist tactics, programs and morals.
If you say that Trump’s supporters endorsed racism, and that racism is bad, then you’re alienating God-fearing people, and Trump will win re-election. If you point out that separating infants from their parents as government policy is a hideous moral failure, and that the people responsible for it should be publicly shunned, you’re showing that the left is uncivil and intolerant, and once again, Trump will win.
Call for universal healthcare, oppose sexual harassment, ask for immigrants to be treated with decency and respect, object to Russia influencing U.S. elections — the response is the same. “This is why Trump wins!” Whatever you say, it just shows you’re out of touch with the average American, and that the country is doomed to Trump rule forever.
If the Democrats and the left ever want to win elections, apparently, they need to turn themselves into Republicans.
If the Democrats and the left ever want to win elections, apparently, they need to turn themselves into Republicans. Close the borders, cheer for Russian President Vladimir Putin, abolish unions, make abortion illegal, and never ever protest, and maybe if you’re lucky Trump will agree to step down after three terms.
The endless rhetorical Trump victory lap is wearisome. It’s also deeply confused. “This is why Trump is winning!” only makes sense if Trump is winning. But even a cursory look at the political landscape since 2016 makes it clear that he is not.
The GOP has been repeatedly, humiliatingly defeated in elections since 2016. Democrats achieved a shocking victory in Virginia in 2017, winning what was supposed to be a dead heat governor’s race by nine points and picking up 15 seats in the 100-seat House of Delegates. In an even more shocking victory a couple months later, Democrats won a Senate seat in deep red Alabama for the first time in a quarter century.
Overall, Democrats have flipped more than 40 state and local special election seats since 2016, and the average swing toward Democrats in special elections is more than 13 points. Analyst G. Elliott Morris of the Economist says that “special elections point to the largest Democratic wave election since 1994.”
If this is why Trump is winning, Democrats and the left should do more of this.
Trump partisans believe that Trump is the chief beneficiary of negative partisanship. Voters, supposedly, hate anti-racism and feminism and immigration so much that they will turn out in droves to cast ballots against anyone who champions those things.
It’s certainly true that GOP voters and Fox viewers hate Democrats and the left, and get angry at them for every reason and for no reason. But negative partisanship goes both ways. And at the moment, it’s primarily helping the left.
Trump is among the most unpopular presidents in history. His net approval has been at least 10 points underwater for virtually his entire presidency. As of mid-July, according to 538, his numbers were worse than any president in history at this point in his term except for Truman.
People really dislike Trump — and that dislike is precisely what has been fueling the wave of Democratic electoral victories since 2016. Low presidential approval is correlated with substantial losses in midterm elections.
At the moment, some people hate Democrats and therefore vote for Trump’s party. But more people hate Trump, and therefore vote against everyone associated with him.
We can’t know for sure if Democratic wins will continue. Republicans have many advantages because of gerrymandering, voter suppression, and structural biases in favor of rural voters. Democrats are by no means assured of winning the House, much less the Senate.
Still, since 2016, the electorate has not been primarily motivated by anger at anti-racism or immigration. Rather, all indications suggest that voters are sick of Trump’s racist attacks on immigrants, of his authoritarian bellowing, and of his divisive attacks on politicians and citizens who dare to disagree with him. Voters are not angry at the left’s efforts to preserve healthcare, or to protest vicious policies. They’re angry at right-wing extremism, tax cuts for the wealthy, and monstrous border policies designed to separate children from their families.
When Republicans crow, “This is why Trump won!” they remind everyone of GOP entitlement and disdain for democracy. Republicans don’t even pretend that Trump is trying to govern for everybody. He is simply a punishment meted out to anyone who dares dissent, or who has the temerity to hope for a better country.
Trump is evoked not to stir hope or pride, but as a threat. Throwing his name at Democrats or the left is a deliberate insult — and as such, it reminds everyone of all the things they hate about the president’s arrogance and vindictiveness. The mocking, irritating insistence that “this is why Trump won!” is actually a big part of the reason that Democrats have been winning.
Noah Berlatsky is the author most recently of “Chattering Class War: Punching Pundits From Chait to Chapo and Brooks to Breitbart.”