So to recap, Donald Trump was only the third president in the last 100 years to lose reelection. He cost Republicans the House and the Senate. He cost them young people (a.k.a. “the future”) and suburbanites, and he solidified Democratic advantages among urban dwellers of all stripes. He remains among the most unpopular figures in American politics. And he’s warred not only against his party’s leadership but against his party itself, even demanding that his supporters send him money rather than sending it to the party.
And yet Republicans, for some unfathomable reason, can’t quit him.
Objectively speaking, Donald Trump is about as irrelevant as any ex-president could be. His laughably stupid attempt at a blog (what his spokesman promised would “completely redefine the game, and everybody is going to be waiting and watching to see what exactly President Trump does”) is dead less than a month after its launch. It’s dead because no one visited it. Trump measures success by one metric and one metric only: ratings. He was so much a flop that even he couldn’t pretend otherwise. The humiliation was simply too much to bear.
Then there’s Trump’s website. Traffic to it has plummeted 99% in the last year, from nearly 14.5 million unique visitors in April 2020 to a pitiful 161,000 last month. Whatever weird superpower Trump had, it was wholly dependent on Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms to push his crap into the darker recesses of American society. Cut off from those algorithms, Trump doesn’t have enough juice to propel himself into continued relevance.
Then there’s Trump’s recent appearance on Newsmax, which I’m sure was hyped in the usual corners of the right-wing media world. The results?
The one-hour sit-down with Steve Cortes and Jenn Pellegrino averaged just 295,000 viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research data.
That’s less than half the eyeballs for a repeat of Food Network’s “Chopped,” which pulled in 651,000 on average in the midst of a multi-hour marathon of the cooking competition in the 9 p.m. timeslot. And it’s roughly a third of what Bravo scored for a new episode of “Real Housewives of New York.”
Ooof. Again, for someone who measures success by ratings, his losing streak continues unabated. And rather than pull himself up by his bootstraps and work to rebuild his audience, the best he and his can do is whine about being “cancelled.” Because he’d rather coast off someone else’s work and platform than actually put any effort into … anything at all! He won’t even join conservative-friendly social media platforms like Parler without demanding cash up front! If there’s anything he hates more than low ratings, it’s someone else getting ratings from his presence … without him getting a cut of the action.
Meanwhile, his allies are almost all facing Justice Department investigations (Rep. Matthew Gaetz, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, Rudy Giuliani, his own company and family, etc.), and unfortunately for them, Trump couldn’t get around to pardoning the whole mess of them.
And what do Republicans House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell do? They continue to genuflect to this impotent loser, no matter how much damage he continues to do to their party.
And thus emerges a ray of hope for Democratic chances in 2022. History says that the party of a first-term president nearly always faces catastrophic loses in Congress in his first midterm election. In the House, the average is an over 30-seat loss. In the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attack, 2002 was an exception, so exceptions do exist. Regardless, Democrats face some historical headwinds that are compounded by a reapportionment and redistricting process that favors Republicans, a Senate map that features nearly every single difficult 2020 presidential battleground—Arizona (D), Florida (R), Georgia (D), Nevada (D), North Carolina (R), Pennsylvania (R), and Wisconsin (R)—and the systematic Republican effort to make it harder for core Democratic constituencies to turn out and vote.
In a normal year, we’d be talking about how to minimize losses and what a Biden administration might do with Republican congressional majorities. But this isn’t a normal year, and Republicans are doing everything in their power to keep it that way.
The reason the incumbent party does so poorly during the midterms is because the election becomes a referendum on the new president, and he never measures up to his campaign promises. His partisans become demoralized or complacent (or both), and the other side’s partisans are revved up. Just witness the anti-Clinton hate during his years, or the rise of the Tea Party during the Obama years, or the rise of the Resistance during the Trump years. But now, do you hear anything from the right? Sure, there’s some Q and anti-vaxx stuff, but none of it is anti-Biden. In fact, Republicans are pretty much surrendering on going after Biden. Instead, they’ve pivoted to attacking—get ready for this—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and The Squad, i.e., Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley. What do they all have in common? They’re women, and they’re mostly women of color. After years of honing their racist and sexist attacks on Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama, they’re at a total loss when faced with an old white guy.
But we know that attacks on Pelosi and company have failed in the past. They failed in 2018 when Democrats won a stunning wave election. And they failed in 2020 when Republican gains in marginal districts were fueled by the turnout of Trump partisans, not by any anti-Pelosi messaging. A scary president is a huge get-out-the-vote motivator in a midterm election. Republicans have already taken that off the table.
But what’s more is that by letting loser Trump call the shots and by letting him insert himself into the political debate, Republicans very well risk turning 2022 into a referendum on … Donald Trump. We already know how those go—they goose the liberal base vote without any corresponding Republican vote unless Trump is on the ballot. And he isn’t.
On top of that, throw in the right-wing’s current obsession with “cancel culture,” leading to greatest hits like “Mr. Potato Head” and “Dr. Seuss” something-something or other, and Democrats suddenly have a fighting chance of getting out of this either breaking even, or maybe even gaining seats.
Democrats couldn’t possibly face a better-case scenario: A Republican Party that can’t quit one of the most divisive and hated figures in American politics while refusing to engage on any issues that might actually win them a few new votes, rather than simply agitating the same old dying electorate already in their pocket.
It makes no political sense. It certainly doesn’t make any mathematical sense. But it’s quite clear that whatever fever has gripped this modern Republican Party, it has nothing to do with logic, electoral math, or even basic common sense.