After a rocky week of election memes, sleepless news anchors, and painfully high anxiety levels over Nevada and Georgia, the United States finally declared a clear victor of the 2020 presidential election on November 7. With 290 electoral votes and the most votes secured by a presidential candidate in history, Joe Biden became the president-elect. Unsurprisingly, the news did not delight sitting President Trump.
Following the confirmation of the results, Trump took to Twitter to deny the election and promise a legal battle to recount the ballots. Since then, we have witnessed countless accusations of stolen votes, widespread election fraud, and several appeals for recounting votes.
Even if Trump refuses to concede office in January, he will have no choice but to leave the White House. According to constitutional law professor John Yoo, “He may never concede; he doesn’t have to concede. The thing about the American Constitution is that it doesn’t actually require the sitting president to do anything one way or the other. On January 20th, Donald Trump’s term ends and Joe Biden’s, I believe, will begin.”
Behind the scenes, however, it seems that President Trump is preparing for the end of his current term and casting his sights on a potential future run for the presidency. Politico reported that Trump told a crowd of Republican National Committee members, “It’s been an amazing four years. We are trying to do another four years. Otherwise, I’ll see you in four years.”
In an interview on NPR, Mara Liasson identifies Trump’s inability to accept losing as tied to his proposed political bid for office in 2024. “He needs to create this false narrative to be able to walk off the stage without admitting he lost so he can maintain political viability, maintain a firm grip on the base of the Republican Party, especially in case he wants to run again,” Liasson explained.
While running for another term is a constitutionally sound plan, the implications of a 2024 platform are concerning for several reasons.
Trump’s baseless fraud accusations and habit of questioning the norms of democratic processes has and continues to dissuade some Americans from accepting the incoming President-elect Joe Biden. This casts a shadow over the electoral process by denying the successor the typical acknowledgment during a transfer of power. It is difficult to ignore the danger of this move, especially in a democratic republic based on the idea of free and fair elections.
At its most basic level, voting indicates the general will and priorities of the nation. Elections provide feedback to the government and keep those in office updated on the public’s preferences. Conflicts over policy priorities are expected and even encouraged – election years bring the nation to the table to discuss their political concerns and preferences.
Joe Biden is simply the face of the nation’s preferences for platform and policies. When Trump undermines faith in the mechanics of the democratic process, he encourages his followers to question the legitimacy of the public’s choice.
These accusations and the possibility of a 2024 bid reveal Trump’s tight grip over his base. With widespread doubt in the democratic election process and the unlikelihood that Trump’s base would support another Republican candidate, our nation may remain at a point of stasis in between Trump’s two terms in office.
As we face a deeply divided nation separated by party politics and increasingly polarized views, the lingering question remains: how do we heal from the past four years? Coming back together as a nation requires a recognition of our shared values and shared identity as Americans. This shared identity includes faith in our elected officials and the democratic process which has selected them.
If Trump decides to run for office again, we could face another four to eight years of political division. Trump’s rhetoric and demagogic tactics to inflame fear and paranoia will persist, which will serve to erode trust in the government. It is difficult to see a scenario in which Americans can find that common link when so many view Trump as a threat to American democracy.
Some may question if this route is even conceivable given the deep wounds made by the last four years. According to Pew Research Center, “roughly four-in-ten registered voters in both camps say that they do not have a single close friend who supports the other major party candidate.”
We can attribute this divide to the split perspectives of the opponent party. A report from PennState reveals that neither Democrats nor Republicans understand the motivating factors for their opponents’ choices.
According to the same report, most Republicans believe that Democrats vote because they want “free stuff” with “one in six Republican voters [using] the word “free” in their answers, whereas no real Democratic voters in the sample answered this way.” On the other side, most Democrats labeled Republicans “VERY ill-informed,” and explained their voting choices as “Fox News told me to vote for Republicans,” or “uneducated and misguided people guided by what the media is feeding them.”
President Trump’s consistent labeling of the Democratic Party as anarchists, rioters, or ANTIFA also does not encourage partisan cooperation. Trumpist rhetoric and unnecessary legal fights exacerbate misunderstandings on both sides of the aisle.
Political scientists Robert D. Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett offered some historical context to tackle this problem of partisanship by identifying the concept of the ‘I-We-I’ curve. They examined previous periods of polarization and discontent in the Gilded Age compared to the trend of community-oriented engagement that characterized the beginning of the Progressive Era.
The dubbed ‘I-We-I’ curve gives name to the respective periods of individualism and cohesion in American society. As Garrett identified, “America’s salvation comes from the vast upswell of citizen action.”
It seems unlikely that this would happen if Trump’s term continues. Liberals cannot cooperate with a man they see as a threat to democracy, and conservatives bristle at personal accusations of racism or unfairness.
As well, another Trump campaign worsens the current Republican identity crisis. GOP pollster Whit Ayres said, “I think most Republican elected officials are ready to move on. [A possible reelection campaign] prevents that from happening.”
Donald Trump is an anomaly to the Republican Party. Established in the Reagan era of trickle-down economics, limited government, individual responsibility, and free trade, the current GOP is a husk of its former self. The RNC did not even write a platform in the 2020 election, citing that it “did not want a small contingent of delegates formulating a new platform without the breadth of perspectives within the ever-growing Republican movement.”
With the emergence of the Lincoln Project, the Republican Party may not remain one cohesive unit. Lincoln Project co-founder Jennifer Horn emphasized, “At some point, if the Republican Party wants to be a serious, influential, leading voice in American politics, they’re going to have to eventually choose between Trumpism and democracy, Trumpism and America, Trumpism and the Constitution.”
The possibility of another Trump campaign places the party at odds with itself in an existential fight to define their ideological platform before the next election. To improve their reelection prospects, Republican politicians must appeal to their Trumpist-leaning constituencies. Given Trump’s strong voter base and the doubt cast over the 2020 election within that base, the GOP has its reasons to follow Trump’s leadership into the next election cycle.
According to Republican operative Alex Conant, in a typical campaign cycle “you would see potential presidential candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire this month. That’s not going to happen because nobody wants to be seen as challenging Trump.”
The Republican Party needs space and time to move past Trump and reevaluate their core values and beliefs. The emergence of a new candidate can solidify this movement and perhaps keep the Republican Party one cohesive unit.
While Trump is unlikely to win again in 2024, the host of factors surrounding our internal polarization and the GOP’s future make even a potential campaign troubling.
We need to take the advice of Dr. Putnam and Dr. Garrett seriously. Moving past this election involves a shift in collective thought from “I” to “we”. As we move through a global pandemic and toward a potential vaccine, the fate of the country depends on our conscious decisions to forgive what we can of our past divisions and focus on the factors that bind us together.
Categories: Domestic Affairs