The 2020 election season is finally coming to an end after what felt like the longest political campaign ever, and Republicans are already starting to pivot to start to rebuild the shambles of their party in what now seems like Donald Trump’s inevitable defeat.
This year started with a bang with a strong economy then turned into a nightmare as over 230,000 people have died in the US from a virus that in January was still unknown but has now turned all of our lives into a series of fits and starts after stay-at-home orders, closings and reopenings, and now maybe many more months of uncertainty.
But through it all, the campaign for President continued, although sometimes reduced to video calls, socially distanced meetings, two combative debates, and (yes, unadvisedly) some campaign rallies with thousands of people refusing to wear masks (you can guess which candidate that was).
Now, just a handful of days from the election, and after four years of following the freewheeling President down political cul-du-sacs, mainstream Republican politicians are starting to sense that Trump is not going to win this election, and they’re starting to distance themselves from him, and more importantly, his wayward policies that abandoned traditional GOP positions.
This past week, Texas US Senator Ted Cruz, who Trump famously nicknamed Lyin’ Ted during the 2016 primaries but soon became a vocal Trump supporter, said that reducing the national debt would be a priority for Republicans after the election.
That’s right, the same Ted Cruz who used to be a fiscal conservative and ranted against Democrats spending too much before Trump was elected, but who voted for every tax break and spending package Trump has proposed – and helped drive our national debt to the highest level in history! Yes, that Ted Cruz.
All of a sudden, now Ted Cruz is again is a budget hawk, trying to reclaim his place as a fiscal conservative after four years of spending like a liberal he so often decries.
And Cruz isn’t the only one.
Republicans in toss-up states like Senator Susan Collins of Maine – who this week voted against the appointment of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court – have criticized and distanced themselves somewhat from Trump in recent weeks as his unpopularity in close elections could cost some Republicans their campaigns.
But for the most part, Republicans have been too afraid of crossing Trump and his legions of devoted base voters who punish any Republicans that go against the President. That fear of losing their positions has kept conservative and traditional Republicans on board with Trump’s unorthodox and unprincipled positions like imposing trade tariffs, cutting taxes with no counterbalancing cuts, and increasing spending, especially in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Combined, Trump and his Republican followers and enablers have increased the national debt by over $7 trillion dollars in less than four years. Some will argue it was all because of COVID stimulus spending, but the truth is that the debt had already increased by over $4 trillion before the pandemic stalled the economy.
What makes it even worse is that Trump ran on a platform, if you can call it that, of eliminating the national debt and closing the trade deficits with China and other countries.
Again, in another failed plan without a solid policy basis, Trump imposed high tariffs on Chinese imports which led to retaliatory tariffs in China on US exports. Overall, the trade deficit with China has actually increased during Trump’s time in office, not decreased.
US companies -and eventually, American consumers- paid over $380 billion in tariffs on imports due entirely to Trump’s reckless game of macho brinkmanship that accomplished nothing but lost sales for American companies, lost jobs for Americans, and higher prices for consumers.
These are not traditional Republican policy positions, but Republicans were too scared of Trump to oppose him or vote against him. They took the collective bet that being with him was better for their own survival, and it has now led them to what by all accounts looks like a blue wave that could sweep Trump out of the White House, and Republicans losing control of the Senate.
Many Republicans (including some wayward friends of mine) still cling to the hope that 2020 will end up like 2016 when polls were wrong and Trump won a surprise victory against all conventional wisdom.
But there are glaring differences in this election that they ignore but foretell a much different outcome after the election on Tuesday.
First, Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton, and is polling higher at this point in the campaign than Clinton ever did against Trump. Clinton began to fade in the last two weeks of the election, especially after FBI Director James Comey announced that they were investigating her emails again.
Clinton was also taking states like Michigan and Wisconsin for granted, and didn’t even campaign there in the closing weeks of the campaign. She relied on polls that showed her ahead, but even then, only by small margins.
But even more importantly, Donald Trump is no longer a new phenomenon and a breath of fresh air against the establishment. He is a known quantity, with hardly any voter out there still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he would become more “presidential” after the election.
In 2016, many voters believed that the foul-mouthed, insulting, brash businessman turned reality star turned politician was actually playing the part and would become more serious when he actually took office and the weight of the office fell upon him.
Instead, Trump has turned out to be exactly what he was portraying; a rudderless con man playing the part of a successful businessman – a part he had been playing for years in New York.
After four years, we have all now seen that Trump holds no philosophical principles traditionally held by politicians. Trump has been described by many people close to him as impulsive and undisciplined, and that he makes decisions more on personal survival and convenience than advancing the goals of the United States.
There cannot be more than a handful of voters that are still unsure of what they get in President Trump. They have seen the rapid succession of experienced staffers be chewed up and spit out of the White House, only to be replaced with partisan hacks, lobbyists, and family members who will go along with Trump without providing the much-needed balance of opinions that make complex government functions actually function.
The cake is pretty much baked at this point, with few people undecided as to who they will vote for. Even Trump himself has turned wistful this week of his former life that he says “was” wonderful, implying it isn’t anymore.
Most politicians want to be President, but Trump has always seemed like he only ran for the show of it, not expecting to win, and was as surprised as everyone else when he was elected.
He carjacked the Republican Party, took it for a joyride, and now may leave it broken down on the side of the road with three flat tires and no driver behind the wheel.
Traditional Republicans are already starting to access the damage, and starting to look down the road toward a new beginning to rebuild what was once the Grand Ol’ Party.
If Trump is gone after the election, Republicans will be scrambling to redefine their roles during the past four years, trying to take credit for helping to corral Trump from making even worse mistakes, and trying to define themselves as the new driver for the next iteration of the Party.
Good luck with that, Lyin’ Ted. There is a new invention called video, and it plays back your words exactly as you said them. Maybe it’s time for an entirely new cast of characters to remake the Republicans into a competitive party again.
If not, they will join the list of has-been parties like the Whigs, the Federalists, and the Know-Nothings.