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What Happens if Trump Dies? Featuring: Mac (Good Politic Guy), Ben Burgis, Trickle Down Socialism, & Mouth Full of History
Both political parties have shaped around the world's unhealthiest man. What happens when he's gone?
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying Donald Trump is the gravitational force of American politics. For almost a decade, he’s forced both the Democrat and Republican parties to mold around him.
While Trump has driven the Republicans from softening social conservatism to outright fascism, the Democrats have abandoned working-class policies to hold Trump up as The One True Evil. To them, Trump & Trumpism is a malignant cancer on an otherwise healthy and just America.
So, with Trump dominating the polity and the frontrunner for the Republican 2024 nomination, it’s worth asking: What happens if Trump dies? What if the core figure of American politics disappears overnight, leaving both parties without the Hero//Villian they’ve relied on?
To answer this question, I asked some smart people.
Mac a.k.a Good Politic Guy, YouTuber
I think Ron DeSantis is the most likely figure waiting in the reserves to step in and take Trump's place if he died. Polling already shows him creeping up the ranks, and in polls conducted without Trump, DeSantis is far in the lead over less pro-Trump candidates. I think Republicans would consolidate around him relatively quickly after an inter-party battle between Trumpists and the Romney/Cheney types (who would lose decisively).
Democrats would lose one of their largest funding weapons in anti-Trumpism. Their plans for midterms and especially 2024 would have to adjust in the sense that pure Trump-centered politics would no longer be a prime motivating factor for liberals who otherwise could have supported a "less offensive" Trump figure. Their strategy of recruiting socially liberal and fiscally conservative suburban wine moms into their ranks over building a broad working-class coalition would backfire. I anticipate with or without Trump the Democratic Party as it stands right now as a pathetic Republican-lite party with near-zero leftwing populism to motivate their base will get clobbered in 2022/24 as culture war issues dominate the discourse.
Ben Burgis, Jacobin writer & Author
I think it would increase Biden's chances of reelection, though I still think there's a good chance he would lose if nothing else besides Trump dying changes between now and then.
\What I have a hard time with is the Republican base getting very excited about some pretender like Hawley or Rubio who's obviously just a regular, boring politician mouthing Trumpian phrases.
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Pat Donohue, Co-Host of Trickle Down Socialism
If Trump died tomorrow, I think a few things would happen. In the short term, there’d be a splintering of the GOP. Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney would try to rally a coalition of “centrist” republicans, while Ron DeSantis would charge full steam ahead with the strongman, racist, xenophobic approach to generating support.
The upcoming midterms almost assuredly hold a huge victory for the GOP in the House due to redistricting and gerrymandering, as well as the slim majority with which Democrats have been trying to govern in a time of crisis and Biden's inability to convincingly message policies that represent real opportunities for change in ordinary people's lives. It’s likely there’ll be a new majority for McConnell in the Senate. The types of new GOP candidates who run and win would be affected by Trump’s death. In terms of issues, many of the culture war, white grievance issues that Trump and his supporters turned into national conservative rallying points, like complaints of “white shaming” and “Critical Race Theory” being taught in schools would remain potent campaign and fundraising platforms for new candidates.
I don't, however, think that Trump would become a powerful "martyr" figure for Republicans in the way that Reagan was, even before Reagan died. Over time, Trump's legacy will become harder and harder to defend, even for conservatives. This is why I see the biggest threats to democracy, to immigrants, and to the world at large from Trump as threats that will fade or change after he dies. Even a mentally diminished Trump, as we saw in the last year or more of his presidency, is a potent force against progress and towards fascism. As his mental acuity fades, he tends to return to the most divisive and hateful rhetoric, because it's the easiest to express without having to think too deeply or speak too clearly. He has always sought adulation, praise, and power above all else -- the hallmarks of a malignant narcissist who worships fascist leaders because he wants to be one.
My advice to readers, who are likely reading because they have the very same question looming in their minds, is that we buckle up, organize, and vote. But beyond voting in federal elections, it is paramount that we act locally. Remember, much of what the Tea Party did so well, and what the wild white-pride hoard is doing now, is win local elections: school board, town, and city councils.
It is essential that we get progressives in as many offices as possible -- people willing to listen to residents and act, even if those actions are more ambitious at the local level than the DNC platform. We need to show voters that there is a very real alternative to what the Republican and Democratic parties are offering right now. Action, and positive change that focuses on social investment, are our best bulwarks against creeping fascism.
C Money Burns, Co-Host of Trickle Down Socialism
If Trump died tomorrow, we’d immediately see an abrupt realignment of conservative factions trying to contrast themselves before elections. So many erstwhile Neoconservatives and Libertarians who have had to compromise, hide or abandon many of their core views just to have a place in the Republican party after its absorption into Trumpism will have a sudden evolution of convictions. There would be discontent under the Big Tent for certain. Sleazy career politicians with no compunction about turning on a dime like Lindsey Graham, Rick Scott, and Ted Cruz will have a wetted finger in the winds of wedge issues and have donors on the phone before the body is cold. They were in it for the perks, access, and cameras well before Trump, and there’s no indication they’d be any different after he passes.
Neoconservatives whose war-mongering posture and embrace of global finance capital shut them out of Trump’s insular paleo-populism like Mitt Romney and Condoleeza Rice will seek a similar ‘return to normalcy’ as Biden voters, and would definitely siphon off a good many centrists/‘fiscal conservatives’ from the loose Biden coalition. Libertarians ranging from Rand Paul’s churlish contrarianism to Justin Amash’s more principled concerns of government overreach could make a broad coalition of the insular anti-war nationalists and anti-government prepper types on the fringes of Trumpworld who will have no interest in the inside-track careerists and Neocons. The big question is who would keep the central block of Trump’s MAGA army and become the heir to Trumpism? Clearly, his two failsons aren’t ready for prime time, so as much as they love grafting their gaudy name onto everything they touch, even internal R polling shows very low energy for their candidacy.
Ron DeSantis polls just under Trump for likely 2024 matchups against a generic D candidate and seems the most prepared and ideologically-aligned candidate to do so. From all this reshuffling and jockeying for a position of party dominance before both midterms and 2024, there would be far more R primary challenges to incumbents who were formerly Trump loyalists, which can put either far more- or far less-electable candidates on the general ballot. There would be an incredible amount of public infighting between these factions, and there would be a likewise shuffling of donor and PAC allegiances with an unheard-of amount of money going to primary races. Many party donors would become issue-specific donors. This would probably be the one-time conservative news is more fun than horrifying to watch. All of this would throw the conventional wisdom of the dominant party taking a hit during midterms (the obviously-named-by-men “Red Wave”) into question and had we a Democratic party that had any sort of strategy or coherent platform other than Orange Man Bad, we could see a mandate-level majority coalesce if the Republican factional infighting and primaries are disruptive enough. Democrats’ big advantage should a situation like this come to pass would be the disunity and contradicting messages coming from the contending Republican factions. It would also really put a dent in Republicans’ concerted culture war against anything and everything ‘liberal,’ and give Ds a chance to refine their messaging, emphasize their unity, figure out what they’re actually for and not just against, focus donor money and party resources on winnable races, and have some substantial primary debates on issues not ginned up by Tucker Carlson and Alex Jones. Trump’s death would be their best opportunity in years if they didn’t once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
How this would pan out for Dems in 2024 seems like a more open question. Without knowing if Biden can or will run for a second term, with Kamala polling dismally even internally, and with no clear primary challenger yet, it’s tough to say that even in the case of an extremely-unlikely Blue Wave at midterms if the Dems would be able to eke out a second consecutive win. Gas prices, inflation & the bifurcated economy are all indicators that it would still be a very uphill battle no matter who the Dem candidate ends up being. The death of Trump would be such a chaotic wildcard, and so much can happen between now and midterms that could throw a wrench even into the above speculative exposition that it’s really impossible to venture a hard guess that far out.
David, Co-Host of A Mouthful of History
If Trump died right now, I think it’d actually help the Republicans. While it creates a vacuum to be filled, the fact that Trump has been associating himself with the vaccine is tough for his followers to swallow. They have to choose between their obsession with Trump vs their hatred for the vaccine. With him gone, a successor would fill his spot as the aggrieved racist pseudo-populist while fully rejecting the vaccine, thus solving that contradiction.
The Democrats would say some lame shit like "while we didn't agree with his politics, we mourn his passing." They would talk about his successor with the same disdain and urgency they did Trump. It would work for their core voting base of affluent white liberals and the trapped marginalized voters who don't like the Democrats but fear the openly bigoted far-right, but it would ultimately continue the trend of weakening the party by not offering anything. Democrat operatives would write think pieces about how being too mean to Trump is why the party was "really" losing voters because they're paid to make sure the blame doesn't go toward its lack of a program.
I generally agree with my guests’ assessment that Ron DeSantis would become the Republican frontrunner, though I think the party will split on rhetoric. Ben Sasse, Dan Crenshaw, Susan Collins, and all the rest who have pretended to dislike Trump will claim they were “glad they stood up to him,” even though they enabled and protected him the entire time.
Meanwhile, the very-Trumpian members will hold Trump up as a martyr, though I think that limits them on the national stage. DeSantis will walk this line, sounding and acting like Trump while he and the “serious” Republicans pretend he’s some moral actor.
As for the Democrats, I think they could go one of two ways. As Mac said, the base is mostly affluent, college-educated whites, who will flock back to the Republicans now that Trump doesn’t make them feel bad about. If the Democrats recognize their base slipping, they’ll either let them go and return to working-class politics, or they’ll desperately try to recapture these folks by moving rightward.
Hopefully, it’s the former, but if past is prologue then I feel the latter is more likely.
What do you think would happen if Trump died? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to subscribe.