Joe Biden is getting ready for the day he has waited for his entire life. Whilst there’s plenty about his politics which is easy to dislike, I can’t help but admire Biden’s resilience. I also have to commend him for finally putting an end to the round-the-clock coverage of the man he will replace as president on January 20. With every passing day, Donald Trump looks more and more like yesterday’s man. But the more he fades into the background, the harder the 45th President tries to stay centre-stage. Luckily, a substantial part of the Republican Party is distancing itself from Trump. Others, though, are sticking by him. This is a mistake; the time has come to banish Trump from politics altogether.
Even on Republican’s own terms, Trump hasn’t been a good President. The Tea Party railed non-stop against irresponsible government spending for Obama’s two terms in the White House. And yet, almost as soon as Trump was inaugurated in 2017, demands for fiscal responsibility fell on deaf ears. The new President engineered a large tax cut at the end of his first year in office, increased spending, and, even with a united Republican Congress behind him, chickened out of pursuing much-needed welfare reform. The collective result of this was that even before COVID-19, the US government deficit was running at nearly 5% of the GDP. The lockdowns caused this figure to rise inexorably, and Trump’s reckless spending for the three years previous meant that the US had less fiscal headroom to deal with the worst crisis since the War than it might have liked. At the end of the worst economic year on record, Trump’s “tremendous” pre-pandemic economy, built on little but cheap borrowing, feels like a bad joke.
Then, there is the endless damage that Trump has done to American culture. Conservatives ostensibly don’t like society to run at a constant fever pitch. There is not a single instance, however, of Trump lowering the tempo of a disagreement in American politics since he first sought the Presidency in 2015. He has run head-first into every facet of the culture war, utterly unaware of his responsibility to lead, console, and unify. Republicans always claimed they wanted to get the government out of people’s lives. Trump hasn’t got out of the way but hangs over every dinner table with the subtlety of a car alarm at four in the morning. A virus had infected American discourse long before any of us heard of COVID-19.
For Republicans, the nail-in-the-coffin for Trump’s legacy should be that this endless culture-bashing has delivered a Democratic administration which is more left-wing than the one which left the White House in 2017. The problem with polarising the political space to the extent that Trump has is that everybody abandons the centre-ground. In response to Trump’s promise to build a wall along America’s border with Mexico, several Democrat presidential hopefuls called for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. In 2019, Senator Kamala Harris, due to become Vice President in a little over a week, called for the government to decriminalise America’s borders; in essence, to eliminate altogether the distinction between legal and illegal immigration. There are few policy areas on which the Democratic party has not moved left in the past four years: this has been the case on immigration, clearly, but also on public spending, policing, healthcare and environmental regulations. Each of these leftward movements can, to a large extent, be traced back to Trump’s idiotic and misinformed remarks on a whole range of issues. Trump might have remoulded the Republicans in his own image, but he has gone a long way in transforming the Democrats too.
More worrying still for Republicans is the fact that this new Democratic party may wield real power very soon. If the Democrats win the Georgia run-off (results are still being counted as I write this), then President-elect Biden will take office with a unified Democratic Congress behind him. Now that the sixty-vote ‘filibuster’ is used less and less, a simple Democrat majority in the Senate could be enough to see the new President enact substantial parts of his policy agenda. If Republicans didn’t like Barack Obama’s legislative programme, they would loathe Joe Biden’s.
If they want to stop Biden in his tracks, the GOP cannot afford to spend the next four years giving credence to Donald Trump’s claims that the election was stolen from him, just as the Democrats wasted far too much time after 2016 looking for evidence that Trump colluded with Russia. Republicans need to focus on the issues at hand, rather than getting caught up in Trump’s ridiculous soap opera. The soon-to-be-former President’s phone call to Georgia’s Secretary of State demonstrates that Trump still hasn’t accepted his defeat, and provides Republicans with yet another reason to show him the door.
Of course, whether the Republicans walk away from Donald Trump is only half the issue; an equally pertinent question to ask is whether Trump will walk away from them. There are already suggestions that the President is planning a third Presidential run in 2024. Republicans would do well to see this for the disaster that it is. Whilst Trump undeniably pulled off a remarkable victory in 2016, he proved himself to be an electoral liability twice thereafter; once at the mid-terms in 2018, and again a few weeks ago. At the same time, the Democrats showed that when they turn out their voters, they win big. They have built a multi-ethnic, multi-generational coalition larger than the one which their opponents have been able to cobble together. Republicans haven’t won the popular vote at a presidential election since 2004. Whether abandoning Trumpism would help the Republicans find a more reliable formula for electoral success is a topic for another day. But, if the party is to return to the White House in 2024, it is becoming increasingly obvious that they shouldn’t gamble on Trump taking them there.
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