Democrats have long portrayed Donald Trump as a singular threat to democracy, who deserves to be driven from the public square and polite company. Their contempt has rested on ever-changing rationales—from crude behavior and tweets to Russian collaboration to the January 6th attack.
It seems Democrats would much rather look backwards than focus on the future. Democrats attack potential Republican candidates as tainted for working for Trump (e.g., Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence, and Nikki Haley), being enabled by Trump (e.g., Governors Ron DeSantis and Glenn Youngkin), or not denouncing him (e.g., Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Tom Cotton). Even Republicans willing to risk political suicide by denouncing their party’s recent leader and most popular figure can never do so vociferously and constantly enough to appease Democrats.
Do Democrats really view Trump as an existential threat, or is that merely a convenient talking point? They tend to harness the same arguments against every Republican, undermining their claims’ credibility. They further undermine them by cynically spending millions to support Trump’s favored primary candidates in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and other states, hoping they will be easier to defeat.
Democratic revulsion at Trump and other Republicans feeds leftists’ view of themselves as virtuous social justice warriors heroically crusading against society’s many structural evils. They reject bipartisanship and refuse to regard Republicans as a loyal opposition. Adapting Barry Goldwater’s “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue,” liberals see compromise with conservatives as moral failure. They reject norms of civility and cheer the harassment of conservative Supreme Court Justices and Trump officials. The ends justify the means when you see white supremacists lurking behind every corner, and applaud yourself for fighting racism and sexism in every political disagreement.
Any Republican nominee is going to share most of Trump’s core policy positions, as these positions are popular with Republican voters. These positions are not popular because Trump championed them, but rather Trump is popular because he championed these positions. Republican voters believed he would fight for them and their values more effectively than his predecessors did. While others paid lip service to securing the border or appointing conservative judges, Trump followed through. Even when he wasn’t successful, he delighted in the fight and didn’t simply use the policies to win primary votes and forget them after his election. Even moderate Republicans willing to oppose Trump are unlikely to reject these policies.
Any Republican nominee will oppose illegal immigration and support tighter border security. They will fight race-based identity politics that reject intent or personal agency as irrelevant and claim disparate outcomes prove structural racism. They will promote individual actions and responsibilities over group identity and oppose school curricula that teach students they are victims or perpetrators based on the color of their skin. They will reject historical revisionism that portrays America as inherently racist and founded to preserve slavery and support patriotic civics education that views America as a unique force for freedom. They will reject mask mandates, and support empowering parents concerning curricular and school closure decisions.
Any Republican nominee will favor tax cuts and deregulation over more government spending. They will favor lower capital gains, income, and estate taxes, and will fight to continue cutting taxes when Trump’s cuts expire. They will favor legislation allowing Medicaid work requirements for the able-bodied and more freedom for consumers to select the coverage that meets their needs. They will not automatically embrace free trade and will insist on fair trade deals, especially regarding China and its theft of intellectual property. They will not automatically favor the interests of big businesses, and will be skeptical of Big Tech and companies with outsized market concentration.
Any Republican nominee will promote election integrity, vowing to make it easier to vote but harder to cheat. They will favor voter identification and restrictions on ballot boxes, ballot harvesting, and expanded voting dates. Any Republican nominee will support increased defense spending, but be more skeptical of foreign interventions and troop deployments. They will support Israel as America’s strongest Middle Eastern ally, while also working strategically with Saudi Arabia to contain Iran.
Any Republican nominee will oppose unrestricted late-term abortions, and will support conscience clauses and religious liberty rights. They will reject defunding the police in favor of stronger law enforcement, especially against violent criminals and property crimes. They will favor domestic energy and reject environmental extremism that demands top-down control over the economy, unilateral actions that harm America’s international competitiveness, and a culture of scarcity. They will push back against mainstream media bias, and will champion free speech in the face of cancel culture.
When Republican candidates differ from Trump, they may do so by being more conservative. Trump was more willing than many Republicans to embrace sentencing reform, paid family leave, and government limits on prescription drug pricing. He questioned defense spending increases, and floated transgender rights and gun restrictions before pulling back.
Democrats could show they truly opposed Trump, rather than using ad hominem attacks to oppose conservative policies held by tens of millions of their fellow Americans. They could separate the policies from the man, and refrain from demonizing candidates for holding mainstream conservative views. They could try to isolate him by not condemning potential contenders for working in his administration or seeking his endorsement. They could do the hard work of making the case for their policies rather than simply sneering “Trumpism” as an epithet. They have instead chosen expediency over principle, and wonder why Trump remains a political force.