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Chris Reed is the deputy editorial and opinion editor of The San Diego Union-Tribune.
There has never been an election containing more bad news for the party that won the White House than the one that just happened.
Democrats may have elected Joe Biden to replace a staggeringly dysfunctional president who actually believed that wearing masks during a public health disaster showed disloyalty to him. But the fact that Donald Trump set records for the most votes received by both a Republican and a runner-up should give Democrats pause. So should the GOP’s gains in the House, the likelihood the party will retain power in the Senate and its continuing strength in many state legislatures.
Yet the worst news for Democrats is the reason why Republicans did so much better than expected: the massive, stunning exit poll showing one-quarter of voters from communities of color backed the president who often bashed them. This destroys assumptions demography was destined to lift Democrats.
The implications go beyond that. As former New Republic Editor Andrew Sullivan wrote, “the emergence of this coalition of minority conservatives is … a complete refutation of what critical race theory tells us how minorities must feel.” And that theory — which holds that race is the determining factor in most people’s lives — has become a central orthodoxy of modern progressivism.
After the chaos of the past four years — especially in the White House’s response to the pandemic — if any election should have been a blowout, it was this fall’s. Many pundits presumed Trump would be an anchor dragging his party down. Instead, his belief that many Americans have a different view of what is important than the nation’s elites was affirmed anew — and by a more diverse set of backers than before.
Going forward, GOP power brokers will likely presume the path to regaining the White House is to nominate a saner version of Trump — someone with his disdain for immigration, the media and “political correctness” (however it is defined) — but someone who actually has empathy for other people, doesn’t have a history of sexual misconduct allegations and doesn’t hide his personal finances from scrutiny.
A Trump lite without his penchant for self-sabotage would benefit from the fact that we regularly see extremism on the left and right — what I called last year “a sociopolitical example of Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Iconoclastic, often-liberal journalists like Sullivan, Bari Weiss, Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi — not Breitbart or Washington Examiner staffers — think significant elements of the modern left have lost their way, to put it kindly. From calls to “defund the police” to support for de facto open borders to opposition to private health insurance to calls to suppress speech judged unacceptable — and to “cancel” those responsible — progressivism has never been more target-rich for critics.
And that group has long included more people than just conservative whites. Well before the Election Day exit poll, surveys consistently showed that many Latino and Black Americans rejected some views common among “woke” whites — starting with the belief that Barack Obama was a profound disappointment as president.
So given this backdrop, what is likely to happen in the 2024 presidential race?
On the Democratic side, if Biden disappoints progressives, expect a well-funded third party run. San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer has already shown he thinks he’s presidential fodder despite his terrible showing in Democratic debates and primaries.
On the Republican side, because Trump got 72 million votes and wants revenge against Biden, I fully expect him to run again. If he doesn’t, Donald Jr. or Ivanka Trump probably would. But neither were good surrogates for their dad. Both are dull speakers.
Two better communicators — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton — are plainly thinking about running. They increasingly offer Trumpy populist views on trade and immigration and pitch conspiracy theories about the mainstream media teaming with big tech firms to benefit Democrats.
But there is one potential candidate who checks more boxes than anyone else. He has been polishing his proto-Trump act for years and delivers populist spiels with far more gusto and conviction than the Trump kids or GOP senators. He is a genuine TV star and a very familiar face as Trump was before launching his presidential bid. I’m no fan — I have literally never watched his show. But besides all his other check marks, he also has this huge plus: close ties with Republican donors. He’s also much smarter than Trump.
So is America ready to elect as president a kid who grew up in southern California as a wealthy prep student? In four years — unless Trump runs again — I think Fox News host Tucker Carlson intends to find out.