Since watching the Donald Trump show a week ago, I have been trying to figure out what is going on with politics. The CNN town hall meeting (aka The Donald Trump show) was forcefully condemned by some and welcomed by others. Seventy minutes of Trump’s lying arrogance nauseated many of us but was welcomed by others, including many Democrats. Trump’s cavalier rejection of both truth and civility convinced many, for the 100th time, that he is unelectable.
Then we have the phenomenon of Biden’s poll numbers sinking. A lot of us want Trump gone, but apparently still prefer him over Joe Biden. I have been pondering what Biden did to deserve such rejection. Is it age alone? Is it his embrace of diversity and equity? Or is it simply a naïve belief that if we could just get Trump back in the White House, the price of gasoline would go down and the war in Ukraine would end in 24 hours (as promised by Trump at the Town Hall).
I am also watching the impasse over raising the debt ceiling. A terribly risky game of chicken is being played with both sides refusing to entertain compromise. Will Biden lose the support of his party if he “caves” to Speaker McCarthy on the issue (as Trump predicts)? And is McCarthy even in a position to negotiate? Given his razor-thin majority and the MAGA caucus, is McCarthy even able to compromise? And, most importantly, will default on federal debt end American civilization as we know it or simply produce a slight bump in the road? (Trump cavalierly told Town Hall attendees not to worry about a federal debt default.)
If you are able to read these tea leaves, congratulations. Personally, I do not believe that today’s tea leaves can be read with any reasonable degree of confidence.
Conversations with politically knowledgeable friends, as well as newspapers and cable news, have convinced me that nobody really knows what is happening. Pundits like Al From and Craig Fuller have opined that Trump will not be the Republican candidate in 2024. Other friends and pundits, however, tell me that despite being found liable for sexual battery and defamation, being indicted on 34 felony counts in New York, and facing more serious charges of election interference in Georgia and, some predict, a multitude of charges in Washington relating to misappropriated classified documents and trying to overthrow the government, that Trump is a shoo-in for the Republican nomination.
What do I think? I do not know.
Making prognoses even more difficult are the wildcards of Biden’s and Trump’s health, the economy, and the increasing possibility that a group called “No Labels” will run a third party “national unity” ticket in several states. Several friends point to the self-identification of more than a third of voters as “independent” as evidence that a centrist ticket—a Democrat and Republican running on the same ticket and guided by a platform of centrist principles—is the only way to prevent Trump or a left-leaning Democrat from winning the presidency. Others, including Mr. From on The Spy’s From and Fuller program, believes No Labels is a disaster because it would guarantee the return of Trump to the White House by attracting votes that otherwise would be cast for Biden.
What do I think? I do not know. I believe most of us would welcome a centrist president and that the best way to defeat Trump or persuade him not to run is to convince him that his base has abandoned him and that he cannot win. As I said, I do not know.
At times, I feel guilty about not “knowing” what the 2024 election cycle will hold. Last weekend, I stopped feeling guilty. What happened? I reflected on the reality of election day being more than a year and a half away. That realization prompted me to remind myself to calm down.
A year and a half is a long time. A lot of things can, and probably will, happen. Trump, for example, may self-destruct. President Biden may decide not to run for reelection. A surprise, charismatic candidate might emerge in one, or maybe both parties. Remember Obama’s meteoric rise in 2008? The economy may surprise us by not going into recession. And dozens of other scenarios are possible. What if there is another pandemic? Or the Chinese invade Taiwan? Or something else.
My takeaway is that those of us who care about America’s future must stay engaged. We cannot ignore Trump (or Biden), but we also must remind ourselves that it is too early to assume anything. The future is not yet determined. If we want the future to be positive, we need to work for it. Right?
And exactly what should we do? If you agree that Trump’s return to power would be a disaster, we must call out the defeated ex-president’s lies and misguided policies. More importantly, we must get involved with the Democratic party, or even the “No Labels” movement, to promote electing a president in 2024 who supports democracy and the Constitution.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.