Democrats, for very good reason, have been in a poll-induced panic for weeks now. Despite a relatively successful presidency and a booming economy, President Joe Biden is falling behind Donald Trump in the polls, often by downright startling margins. Biden is behind Trump in national polls by over 2 points. And a recent New York Times poll left people who oppose fascism traumatized, showing Trump ahead in 5 out of 6 swing states. It’s enough to make a person want to walk into the sea. How can Americans be so stupid? Do they not care about democracy? Decency? Basic self-preservation?
The debate, of course, has been raging about how seriously to take a poll a whole year out. The swing voters tend to be the lowest-information voters, people who aren’t paying attention and who often refuse to believe either Biden or Trump will be the nominee. (Both are near-inevitable, informed political watchers understand.) Give it a few months for the campaigns to actually begin in earnest and for people to start tuning in, and it could change. Or not. Hell, there’s a not-small chance Americans really are that dumb, and unable to learn our lessons until it’s too late. We wouldn’t be the first nation to shoot ourselves in the face, after all.
But this week, a small ray of hope has opened up, because Trump has indicated that he plans to run an incredibly stupid campaign, focused on two of his least popular political views: the Big Lie and his wish to strip health care away from millions of Americans. Even better, his approach to these two toxic issues suggests that, despite his team’s efforts to normalize Trump, his psychotic levels of narcissism will always drag the campaign straight back to his ego obsessions, reminding voters what they most dislike about Trump.
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On Saturday morning, Trump took to Truth Social to whine about how he’s tried to “terminate” Obamacare in 2017, but failed because “a couple of Republican Senators” refused to go along. “It was a low point for the Republican Party, but we should never give up!” he added, making clear that he still considers it a priority to dismantle a law that has insured millions and lowered costs for countless others.
“It’s hard to think of a more wrongheaded campaign promise than this, on both political and policy grounds,” Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post wrote Tuesday. She notes that Trump’s first attempt to repeal Obamacare scared “voters straight about what losing it would mean,” resulting in a surge of popularity for the legislation, as well as electoral wins for Democrats who ran on safeguarding the bill.
Trump’s words were a gift to the Biden campaign, which has been looking for ways to highlight the president’s under-covered efforts to drive down health care costs, from capping the cost of insulin at $35 to tweaking Obamacare to make it easier to get health insurance. But while getting the uninsured rate down to a record 8% is a major achievement, it also flies under the media radar, since it’s a bureaucratic news story without much conflict to draw attention to it. But with the Trump vs. Biden angle, the massive difference between the two candidates on health care policy might actually get some coverage.
In an unrelated but similarly unpopular move, Trump’s team also signaled this week that their candidate is fully committed to running on the Big Lie, i.e. that he is the “real” winner of the 2020 election and Biden “stole” it with conspiracies that have been disproved over and over and over again. Despite losing the dozens of frivolous lawsuits filed in 2020 alleging election fraud, Trump’s legal team is still at it, making legal motions meant to shore up false claims of a stolen election, even though they know they are doomed to fail.
On Monday, the Washington Post reports, “Trump’s legal team sought permission to compel prosecutors to turn over information” about the FBI and a half dozen other government agencies “in what appeared to be an attempt to resuscitate his unfounded allegation that President Biden’s election victory was ‘stolen.’” On Tuesday, federal judge Tanya Chutkan shot down a similar legal demand to subpoena records and materials from people who worked with the House committee investigating January 6.
In both cases, the legal filings are vague and baseless, and certain to lead nowhere. Trump’s legal team is not really trying to get “proof” of a stolen election, because they know there is none. As the January 6 committee repeatedly showed, Trump is well aware he lost the election, and all claims there is evidence otherwise are lies. The only real reason for such legal time-wasting is to create the illusion that Trump “believes” in the stolen election and is “still fighting.” In other words, Trump is doubling down on the Big Lie as a campaign strategy.
This was already looking like the case when it came to Trump’s various rallies. He often rants that the election was “stolen” and the rallies feature music and pageantry celebrating the Capitol rioters who tried to steal the election for Trump as heroes. As a primary tactic, this makes some sense, since the GOP loves to hear lies about the 2020 election. But creating this paper trail of court filings reasserting the Big Lie suggests Trump isn’t winding this down any time soon. So far, he is only escalating his efforts to relitigate the attempted coup as a noble effort to right some grievous wrong.
In this, he’ll probably cost himself some votes. As Democratic campaign strategist Dan Pfeiffer noted in his recent Message Box newsletter, election denial drives down support for Republican candidates by a small but decisive margin in tight races. “Pushing that absurd lie makes one seem like an extremist kook to a broad segment of the electorate,” he adds.
These two issues resonate with voters in a way few others do, in no small part because they threaten people’s sense of safety and stability. But it also points to a larger issue with Trump, one that will start to get louder as more voters actually tune into the election coverage: He cannot help but put his ego ahead of what’s smart politically.
With the Big Lie, that’s crystal clear. So Trump would be wise to shut up about the Big Lie, allowing voters to forget how bad things got and convince themselves it’s okay to roll the dice with him as president again. His narcissism won’t let him, however, so he will just keep whining about it and reminding people that he’s a direct threat to democracy.
It’s the same story with Obamacare. As Rampell notes, “Most Republican politicians have now figured out that talking about health care is a political liability, so they’ve shut up about it.” But Trump can’t get over perceived slights to his ego, such as when he lost on his repeal bill. He’s also hella racist, and cannot stop expressing his ongoing, obsessive anger that Barack Obama ever became president. It’s why he keeps forgetting it’s Biden who is president, not Obama. Erasing the Black president’s signature achievement is a manifestation of this racist fixation.
It’s certainly depressing to contemplate that such a terrible person as Trump could even exist, much less have as much power as he’s accumulated. As a long list of psychologists explained to Thomas Edsall of the New York Times, Trump’s main character traits are “rageful, grandiose, vengeful, impulsive, devoid of empathy, boastful, inciting of violence and thin-skinned.” His behavior suggests both that he’s a textbook psychopath and a grandiose narcissist, according to experts who have now spent plenty of years observing Trump.
The problem is that there are a lot of people, including in the mainstream press, who wish to downplay Trump’s obvious mental deficiencies as the imaginings of liberal hysteria. That narrative allows swing voters to suppress their doubts about Trump long enough to vote for him, but only if they aren’t reminded of what an off-the-charts jackass he is. But Trump’s impulsivity and narcissism are such that he can’t help but rant and rave about his imaginary grievances, helpfully reminding people that he is, without exaggeration, the worst. So, as gross as it is, let’s hope Trump keeps talking up the Big Lie and how he wants to end Obamacare, long and loud enough so it gets on the radar of people whose memory needs jogging.