Trump pathology: What if Biff Tannen won?
The once and future Trump...are we in more peril now than if he won in 2020?
It’s Pearl Harbor Day (or for those who believe FDR knew about the attack: West Wind Day). This is particularly apropos to the topic I’m writing about today, since it’s all about alternate history. It’s fun to delve into “what if” history, in fact there’s a whole culture of folks who nerd out on it as a hobby. What if Pickett’s Charge succeeded? What if the Nazis won? But this isn’t really the “fun” version of alt-history, because I’m going to use it to defend a very real position I took back in 2020. If you don’t like this kind of stuff, that’s fine, I’ll write on something else tomorrow, or next week. But I know at least one reader asked for this, so I’m doing it as a service.
The premise of this piece is to try to answer a very simple question: Are we better off now, facing the prospect of Trump winning a second, non-consecutive term in 2024, or having him ending his second term in 2024 if he had won in 2020?
My unpopular position in 2020 was that Trump would be less dangerous if he won another term, confined to the White House, and the strictures of government, than if he was outside the government doing the destructive stuff he always does. Therefore, I did the unthinkable—what I didn’t do in 2016—I marked my ballot for Trump instead of Biden. By that action, I incited many people to think I either became insane, was infected with the Trump-worship mind virus, or drank bleach, following one of Trump’s “disinfectant” ideas for dealing with COVID-19. Let me disabuse you of those reasons: it was none of them. I had a reasoned approach for what would really be the lesser of two evils, and Joe Biden didn’t really enter into my calculation.
And that thought is the genesis of the first point of where I believe I am right. I don’t have access to tools like Lexis-Nexis to give me the number of articles or references, or minutes of airtime spent on Trump versus Biden during Biden’s presidency. But my own non-scientific estimate is that Trump has gotten at least two times the coverage in the last four years than Biden. In fact, I think the ratio more like three to one or greater. Biden has been the president everyone expected: a placeholder who isn’t Trump. He is not spectacularly good, nor is he spectacularly bad.
Under President Biden, the economy has recovered some, for some people, but not for others whose spending power and liquidity is worse than before the inflationary period post-COVID. The U.S. left Afghanistan, in a shameful way. Russia invaded Ukraine. And now we have a full-fledged war in Israel with Gaza. On most of these issues, Biden has been on what I consider the right side, dealing with them—mostly. I am not going to argue some kind of revisionist history that under a 2020 Trump administration, that Putin would not have invaded Ukraine, or Hamas would not have committed atrocities on 10/7 of this year. Those are events that stand alone on their own.
Media-wise those world events would command the same amount of column-inches and minutes of television news regardless of who is in the White House. Therefore, from the argument of news cycles, they are not really relevant to the comparison of Biden vs. Trump.
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What I am arguing is that in the 2024 election, Trump is the story. He was the story from the minute he lost the election in November 2020, to now. Trump drives the news, and Biden is along for the ride. This election is not a challenger versus an incumbent; it’s tantamount to two incumbents running against each other. Advantage: Trump, because he controls the news, and as NBC pointed out, in the few examples of these kinds of rematches, the challenger tends to have better odds.
The peril we’re in is that Trump will win in 2024. If he does, many of the “dictator” scenarios we fear are a real possibility. When Trump told Sean Hannity that he would not abuse the power of his office “except Day One,” it’s hard to ignore or pass off as a joke. We’re talking about a guy who did whip up a crowd peppered with armed individuals at the Ellipse and sent them marching to the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. “Fight!” was not a joke. They fought. We’re talking about a 2024 strategy where Trump will appoint thousands of pre-vetted people to government positions using an executive order he would certainly re-invoke—Schedule F—where the main test for policy is unquestioning loyalty to the boss.
In 2024, Trump plans to appoint agency heads that have no chance of Senate approval, and promote “acting” heads from within using the Schedule F appointments which do not require Senate ratification. He plans to seed the military with his loyalists, promoting from within. The Tuberville strategy was tested for the last year, and it will be used again in a 2024 Trump administration. All the moves that Trump made from November 2020 through January 20th 2021 will be replicated, but this time from Day One of a 2025 Trump administration. The courts will rule against Trump, but he will ignore them.
Of course, Trump could lose next November. That’s what everyone’s counting on to avoid the dystopian future we’re scared of. But Trump isn’t losing as of today. In fact, he’s winning. With the terrible, awful performance last night during the final (thank God!) GOP candidate debate, I can see why people would choose Trump over the others. I do like Nikki Haley, but found myself losing count of the number of times I said “but that’s not true!” while she spoke on the economy, China, and other topics. I still think she’d be a better president than DeSantis, or Christie, or the execrable Vivek Ramaswamy, but geez—cringe—they all proved Trump’s strategy of staying off the debate stage.
Given where we are, unless Chris Christie really does leave the stage, enjoy a nice meal, and exit the race (thank you, Gov. Christie for defending Haley’s honor against the “obnoxious blowhard,” if you watched that part); and unless Haley defeats DeSantis and closes within a few points of Trump in New Hampshire, the GOP is back to the bucket of crabs scenario. All the non-Trump candidates will pull each other down until only Trump is left.
We know the current peril, and it’s bad. So now I’ll go into the alt-history part, like Back to the Future Part II, where Biff Tannen uses the sports almanac from the future to amass a huge gambling fortune, forcing Marty McFly and Doc Brown to alter the future the save the (past) present.
Let’s say that Trump didn’t tell Republicans to only vote in person in 2020. Let’s say he squeaked out a victory in Wisconsin and Georgia, and won Pennsylvania. That would mean Trump won the electoral college 278-260. Exit Joe Biden from the stage. Biden would have immediately and graciously conceded.
There would have been no stolen election conspiracy. Perhaps a few state-level stolen election claims, but those would not end up a giant national story. There would be no fake electors, no “stop the steal” rallies, no Rudy Giuliani with hair dye running down his face, no “Four Seasons” landscaping press conference. There would have been no Sidney Powell, no phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. There would have been no Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit, no Tucker Carlson getting fired for it.
Everything associated with January 6th would have not happened. An entire giant anaconda of news running from January 2021 through now would not have happened. The value of not having that crisis, where the peaceful transfer of executive power was endangered by the exiting president is incalculable. The damage to the national polity and division that has resulted is almost inestimable.
What we would have is Trump unchained in a second term. But Trump in the White House would still face the courts ruling against him, the military opposing him, a hostile, Democrat-controlled Congress, and the “deep state” consisting of the national security community and various agencies and inspectors general standing up to his attempts to enforce loyalty.
Schedule F would be challenged in court and likely enjoined from happening. It would wind its way through the courts to the Supreme Court, and likely struck down. Of course, that may well happen in 2025 too, but a Trump who has endured years of courtrooms and rulings against him has a much greater disrespect for the court system, along with the millions of radicalized fans who believe Trump’s many prosecutions were politically motivated. Absent those prosecutions, a 2020 re-elected Trump would be less likely to ignore every court ruling like he will certainly do in 2025.
We’d still have wall-to-wall Trump coverage. We’d still have scandals. We’d still have Russia invading Ukraine, though I do think Trump would stand against Putin, if only for the popularity points. Let’s say Volodymyr Zelenskyy managed to fight off Russia’s initial attack (since he did that without our help). I think Trump would bask in the shine of standing with the courageous television star, and would go all-in to beat Russia, while trying to back-door make a “deal” with Putin. But even if Trump went full-Putin, I think Russia wouldn’t be able to beat Ukraine, especially if Europe stepped up (and they would).
We’d still have a bad economic turn followed by a recovery. We would not have the whole push for green economy and electric cars. But Tesla would still be popular, Twitter would still be bought by Elon Musk and turned into X. Musk thinks Trump is a con man (he’s right!) so there wouldn’t be the kind of confluence between Trump-aligned people and X that there is now. In fact, the whole conspiracy cottage industry would be less robust than it is now.
The big cottage industry would be “#Resist.” The Trump resistance movement would take on a life of its own, and become an almost permanent fixture, opposing everything Trump said or did. It would own much of the news media and share coverage with Trump.
But the biggest boon is that in 2024, another Republican would be running who is not Donald Trump. What we’re facing now in the current version of the future would be in our past and we’d be through with Donald Trump. Perhaps a Trump-anointed candidate like Vivek would be running, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to like them. Vivek is both annoying and obnoxious, with no redeeming comedy or personality. All the Trump children pale in comparison to their daddy. We’d be just as likely to have a similar crop of Republicans as we have now, except without Trump looming over them.
As much as it’s painful to admit, I think the alt-history 2020 future is better than the one we’re facing now. The whole thing about playing alt-history games is that you can never know. It’s possible things would be much worse. But given what I knew in 2020, I believe I can defend my position. Trump is super dangerous now; I don’t think he’d be that dangerous if he’d won and was confined to actually doing the job of president for the last four years.
I can’t prove any of this, but I’d rather deal with that than the current future, where even Goldman Sachs is betting against us. God help us all.