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Democrats Hate Him, But Elon Musk Might Be Their Savior

Elon Musk took control of Twitter on Friday, adding to the growing misery of Democrats heading into the midterm elections, not least because he’s made clear he’ll probably allow Donald Trump back onto the platform. A person familiar with the situation told Bloomberg News that Musk “intends to do away with permanent bans on users because he doesn’t believe in lifelong prohibitions.” Lest there be any doubt, the source explicitly named Trump, who subsequently posted on Truth Social that he was “very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands.”

Over the last few months, Democrats have agonized as the effect of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, which initially spiked Democratic voter enthusiasm and put the House of Representatives in play, has ebbed. Their prospect of holding onto the House has all but vanished, and polls suggest the Senate might also slip away from them.

For a certain breed of online Democrat, Musk’s takeover of Twitter has compounded this frustration. Over the last few months, Musk has revealed himself to be a full-on, red-pilled, meme-tweeting conservative provocateur, the sort of polarizing figure who drives liberal “Blue Checks” to distraction. The MAGA crowd’s delighted embrace of their trollish new overlord has only heightened the sense among liberals that some great injustice is being perpetrated upon them. As John Herrman notes in an insightful New York magazine piece: “Some of the loudest voices cheering Musk’s bid to buy Twitter — including co-investors and new partisan allies — have been excited about the prospect of staff purges and mass ownership, both literal and figurative, of the Blue Checks.”Unleashing Trump back into the Twittersphere would be the crowning indignity — the thing that really might make libs cry. 

Should it, though? 

From the standpoint of maintaining one’s personal sanity and mental well-being, the answer is probably yes. Trump’s absence from Twitter has robbed him of the ability to dominate cable news coverage and diminished his exhausting prominence in most people’s daily lives. (He had 90 million Twitter followers, compared with a paltry 4.4 million on Truth Social, which also has much lower traffic.) That all stands to change if Musk reinstates him.

But from a standpoint of what’s politically best for Democrats, choking down the castor oil of having Trump back on Twitter may be just what they need to rebound from what is shaping up to be a rough Election Day and start preparing for 2024.

The last few years have clarified that, as much as they may hate him, Trump is the great Democratic unifier. He’s a galvanizing figure who’s probably a net positive for Democrats in any election, even though many Republicans worship him the way some techies still worship Musk. 

Back in January, I wrote about what it would take for Democrats to defy historical trends and hold onto the House. Typically, the party that controls the White House loses congressional seats — often dozens of them — in the first midterm after a new president is elected. Everyone agreed it would take something big. And although a Twitter takeover was not yet a gleam in Elon Musk’s eye, Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist, presciently identified Trump’s return to Twitter as being the sort of black swan event that could supercharge Democratic fortunes, since there could be “no bigger midterm wild card than letting the tiger out of its cage.”

It’s too late for a Trump resurrection to help Democrats on Nov. 8. But Donovan remains confident that the same dynamic still holds and could boost Joe Biden — or whoever is the Democratic nominee — two years from now. “What’s the best thing that’s happened for Republicans over the last 18 months?” Donovan asked, when I spoke to him on Friday. “It’s obviously the absence of Donald Trump from the main stage.”

Just as the ability to avoid Trump’s penchant for outrage and scandal has helped Republican candidates this election season, his absence has deprived Democrats of what was a powerful motivator in 2018 and 2020. In their new book, “The Bitter End: The 2020 Presidential Campaign and the Challenge to American Democracy,” a team of political scientists examined a full campaign’s worth of survey data to see what issues actually mattered to Democratic voters — what’s known in academic circles as “revealed preference.” The idea is that while voters may support a laundry list of issue positions, some are more important than others in influencing their vote choice.

What the political scientists found was that next to ending the snatching of children away from immigrant mothers, impeaching Trump was the single greatest priority in 2020 among Democrats and people who leaned toward the Democratic Party. It’s no coincidence that Joe Biden won 81 million votes.

What a mercurial figure like Musk will ultimately wind up doing with Twitter and its greatest outcast is anybody’s guess. Not long ago, Musk looked like he was doing everything humanly possible to try and back out of the deal. Now, he’s “Chief Twit” and hero to the MAGA masses.

If Musk carries through with what he’s hinted at and reinstates Trump, the  right will celebrate the act as one of the greatest “owns” of liberals ever. It will add immeasurably to Democrats’ unhappiness if Republicans win back Congress. But it may ultimately have nothing like the political effect that Musk and his partisans appear to desire. “It’s going to feel bad, it’s going to touch a lot of nerves on the Democratic side if Trump comes back,” says Donovan. “But anybody taking a longer view should see that it’s beneficial for them to have Trump out there being himself.”

More From Bloomberg Opinion:

Obama Is More Valuable as a Pundit Than as a Politician: Matt Yglesias

The Email That Every Campaign Is Sending Right Now: Ramesh Ponnuru

State and Local Elections Are Now Critical: Jonathan Bernstein

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Joshua Green is a National Correspondent at Bloomberg Businessweek and the author of “Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency.”

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