Speculation on Trump and the Future of the Democratic Party


As I have noted, the election was a real wakeup call for the Democratic Party: its message to the working class, their traditional support base, did not sell. To address what the party should do going forward, I have asked Richard Rust, a good friend and a Democratic political consultant, what he thinks. I quote him in entirety below. He sees a bleak future. I think he is missing a key point which I address later in this piece.

Richard Rust

“Within four years, President Trump may well appoint up to three new right wing Supreme Court Justices. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, an avowed racist, will be Attorney General. While, Republicans have more control over politics at the state level than any time since the 1920s. So, the answer is pretty clear. Devastation!

Starting at the dawn of the Reagan era, corporate interests, conservative ideologues and the religious right began working towards remaking America. To them the US was in danger of permanently embracing a godless, European-like Socialism. So, they went about stopping it. The oligarchs and their allies have used every resource at their command. Their goal has been to reverse the country’s progressive legacy from FDR through LBJ up to Obama. Now, in less than 50 years, they are poised to finish the job, having captured the institutional power to do so. In truth, looking back, it is obvious that the Democrats hardly put up a fight.

Controlling who is eligible and able to vote in the years to come is the key. Clearly, the new Republican Party is hell bent on assuring that the 20th Century march toward making the country a true democracy is stopped dead.

Given the number of vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in states Trump romped in, the likelihood is high that Republicans will add to their Senate majority in 2018, with large majorities in both Houses there is a strong possibility that Congress will nullify LBJ’s legacy of federal protection for the right to vote.

Starting in 2018, access to voting at the state level, for groups the Republicans perceive as hostile, will be even more severely restricted than now. Wherever they are able to and have yet to put in place, Republicans will pass duplicitous laws and restrictions on voter registration, camouflaged as preventing voter fraud. Election Day voting will become a fiasco in states and localities where progressive Americans reside. Millions will be disenfranchised.

Opposition law suits will be brought that may succeed in the lower courts, but the DOJ, led by Sessions, whose career has been marked by unrelenting opposition to expanding or protecting voting rights, and Justice Robert’s partisan Supreme Court will uphold even the most severe restrictions.

That Trump was chosen by so many voters raises doubts that outrage from the left and the middle will dissuade the Rs to back off at any level. If they succeed, which is probable, the ability of Democrats to compete at the ballot box in most states and at the federal level will be in serious doubt for a very, very long time.

Even if Trump ends up a failure and is a one term President, the structural changes in voter ballot access will be securely in place. For how long, will probably be a function of whether in 2020, following the next census, with a lock hold on the election process in the vast majority of the states, Republican gerrymandering goes even further than what came after 2010.

The 2016 results show the Democrats’’ base is hardly reliable. The Obama coalition needed Obama to hold together. Blacks are not fully invested in the system. The same with Hispanics. Women are not the progressive bulwark some thought. And young voters lack the discipline to vote strategically. All the political forecasts predicting immutable demographic changes would move the nation leftward missed the countervailing force of white Americans who resent those left-leaning women, minorities and young folk. The ugliness that Trump unleashed won’t be bottled up anytime soon. Republican candidates will embrace it, as it clearly motivates their voters.

The reality of a bleak future for progressives and the Democratic Party is independent of whether issues and candidates emerge with some potential to bridge the seemingly unbridgeable gap between their progressive base and the working class Americans or to moot the disconnect between the political cultures of the coasts, the interior and the south.

Perhaps the greatest irony of the 2016 election, which was marked by more ironies than almost every prior Presidential election combined, is that virtually every political pundit and commentator in the pre-November 8 run up, fixated on the prediction that Donald Trump’s candidacy was about to destroy the Republican Party. It may have crippled the Democratic Party instead.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s designated chief strategist, white nationalist and Rasputin wannabe, sees Trump changing how the country operates in the global arena and at home so that right wing conservatives “govern for 50 years”! He may not be crazy.

President Obama and his AG, Eric Holder, share my concern about the future of voting. They have announced their intent to lead aggressive efforts to save the precious franchise that so many civil rights heroes gave their blood to secure, foster and protect. I fear what they pledge will be too little, too late.

My Thoughts – Rust Misses Key Point

Like Richard, I have concerns about what the Republicans in power would do. But I think my good friend misses the key point about this Presidential election: This was not Republicans vs. Democrats. Instead it was change versus “stay the course.” Both parties ran both types of candidates: Sanders was the change candidate for the Democrats while Trump ran as the change agent for the Republicans. Neither candidate had strong party alliances. And Trump won after the Democratic National Committee “arranged” to get Hillary, their “stay the course” candidate, to win their primary.

Trump has little regard for traditional Republican Party tenets. He frequently chided them and won by appealing to what has been the primary Democratic constituency for decades – the middle and lower income working classes. What does that say about what he will do when he gets into office? Nobody really knows. My guess is that on issues he really cares about, he will do what he wants to do. And on issues he cares less about, he will defer to what the Republicans want done. So what does this mean concretely?

In a recent piece, I looked in some detail at how Clinton and Trump compared on issues.

Let’s look at what we know about Trump on a number of issues.

a. Jobs

I have argued that both candidates missed the most important point about jobs – the country is near full employment but with lower quality jobs because of labor-saving technologies. However, Trump and the Democrats agree a huge infrastructure program is needed. Unlike most Republicans, Trump shows little concern for the deficits such a program would generate. The Democrats have argued for taxing the rich to finance it. However, the Democrats as a rule have rarely objected to deficit financing to generate jobs.

b. Obamacare

Republicans want to abolish Obamacare. Trump went along with them during the election, but he is now talking about keeping its key provisions: no restrictions due to pre-existing conditions and allowing children to be covered by parents’ policies until 26. Obama sees the key challenge to rein in rising costs, and like Sanders, he once favored moving to a single payer system.

c. Foreign Policy

Relative to Democrats, Republicans have traditionally favored war to diplomacy. And Clinton is seen as more hawkish than Obama. In a recent piece, I examined Trump’s foreign policy positions. He talks about strengthening the military, but the two key points he continues to emphasize are to stop nation-building and negotiate with Putin. In short, stop going to war! There are many Democrats who agree with Trump on these issues.

d. The Supreme Court

Many view new appointments to the Supreme Court as the most important reason for voting Republican or Democrat. But again, it is important to keep in mind that Trump is not really a Republican. Will he cede to the wishes of the Republicans on these appointments? Who knows, but I would guess Trump’s wife and daughters will make it very difficult for him to appoint a judge who likely to restrict women’s rights.

e. Immigration

Trump highlighted the “wall” during the primary. In actual fact, both parties agreed on an immigration bill last year. Sure, a few issues about the “pathway to citizenship remain, but this is hardly a partisan issue.

f. International Trade

The Republicans have traditionally supported free trade and trade deals fostering it. Trump’s position of questioning agreements fostering free trade is far closer to the views of most Democrats than Republicans.

g. Gun Regulations

The NRA supports Trump. But unlike the NRA, Trump, like most Democrats, believes meaningful background checks are needed.

h. Taxes

The Republicans traditionally have favored lower taxes on business and higher income individuals. Trump? Like Clinton and Sanders, he favors eliminating the carried interest loophole.

i. Energy

Many Republicans do not believe in global warming. Trump favors competition among all energy types. This is just about the only area where Trump’s position is not aligned with the Democrats. And who knows? Trump has shown amazing flexibility on other issues.

My Conclusion

To me, what the Democrats’ strategy should be is obvious. Follow the lead of Chuck Schumer, the senior Senator from New York. Work with Trump for a year or two and then get him to change his party allegiance. After all, Trump is a wealthy New Yorker who likes to hobnob with other wealthy New Yorkers, most of whom are Democrats.   

I promised Richard the last word.

Elliott, I did not miss the key point of 2016. I didn’t address it. My point has little to do with the electorate’s desire for change; the chasm separating left and right; the disconnect between voters on the coasts, the south and the interior; peoples’ domestic or foreign policy preferences; or what lies ahead, as Trump goes about dismantling Obama’s agenda. It has one focus. The future of peoples’ right to vote.

Trump, along with Republicans in the Senate, House and in the vast majority of states level have been given the keys to the kingdom. Why and how it happened matters little. The only thing that will matter, as far as the future direction of both the Democratic Party and the nation, is whether and how the conservative powers use those keys to lock certain people out of the electoral system.

If a dramatic revamping of the mechanics of the nation’s electoral system locks millions of minorities and younger Americans out, which I fear may be inevitable, it’s basically game over.

The specific issues that you astutely address are all well and good. How they will play out as far as how far to the right Trump pushes things and Democrats and progressives push back, will have little impact on the issue I see as the whole enchilada.

Also, with all due respect, it seems clear to me that Trump is sui generis. Thinking his mind works like any normal person, such as thinking hobnobbing motivates him, seems a bit fanciful. Conning and screwing people in the pursuit of greed, not socializing with them, is what drives him.

Should the Democrats work with him, the story of the frog and the scorpion will likely pertain. Trump will give Schumer and company a ride on his back across the stream. Then just before they reach the shore, he will tip them into the water with a jolt from his poisonous stinger. When Schumer asks “Why did you do that?” Trump will smile and say: “It’s my nature.”

Richard: Thanks. At this point, it is all interesting conjecture. I remain taken with the idea that Trump will soon switch parties and become a Democrat again.

The content above was saved on the old Morss Global Finance website, just in case anyone was looking for it (with the help of archive.org):
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