Which means that the election will be mostly about what Democrats want to do.
To be clear, I’m not saying the campaign won’t be in large part about how Americans feel about Trump. But when it comes to the policy debate — what government does and ought to be doing, the agenda that will determine our future — Democratic ideas will dominate the discussion.
We’re already getting reporting suggesting that Trump and his Republican allies are pretty much giving up on doing much in the way of governing between now and the election. Politico reports that he’s planning to jam his schedule with rallies from this point forward, and while “he may also unveil new policy proposals on tech, guns, immigration and health care out on the trail,” we know what those “proposals” will consist of. They will be something he mentions once or twice before he goes back to calling his opponent names and relating his latest feud with an actor, athlete or musician.
Even if someone on the campaign staff comes up with some kind of policy proposal, there’s no way Trump is going to spend any time advocating it when he could be talking about how immigrants are coming to kill you and rape your daughter. “He’s got one responsibility, and that’s to effectively drive his narrative,” a Republican pollster told the New York Times. “Everything he does has to be put in the context of, ‘Will this help the narrative?’” You may have thought his responsibility was to fulfill the duties of the presidency, but that’s apparently naive.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress will be pushing a comprehensive agenda of … um … well … not really anything. The Senate will be confirming conservative judges, and that’s about it.
On the other side, the Democrats are practically drowning in policy ideas. They want sweeping health-insurance reform. They want dramatic action on climate change. They want to protect worker rights and attack inequality. They want political reform. They want universal child care. They want immigration reform. They want new laws to address gun violence. And more.
And critically, Trump has made it more than clear that he believes campaigns are won on hate and fear. While he’ll be featuring the same kind of xenophobia and race-baiting that worked for him four years ago, he’ll be working to get voters to hate and fear the Democratic nominee and their agenda.
Along those lines, there will be plenty for him to attack, simply because the Democrats have a much more ambitious vision for government action than Republicans do. Because they’re Democrats, they’re laying all this out in detail, which enables Republicans to pick out provisions they can say are threatening.
So every day on the campaign trail, the Democratic nominee will say, “Here are all the things I want to do and why they’re great,” and Trump will say, “Here’s the socialist hellscape the Democrat wants to create.”
Not that the Democrat won’t be criticizing Trump. But my guess is that the nominee will be spending much more time advocating themselves, first because there will be plenty of Democratic surrogates who will take up the task of attacking Trump, and second because voters pretty much know by now how they feel about the president.
Notwithstanding the lies Trump will surely tell about it, there’s a sense in which it’s not so bad that the policy discussion will revolve around the Democratic agenda. If Trump wins, we get what we have now. It’s not that hard to explain or understand. But a Democratic president would mean enormous change across every area of government policy. Voters need to understand what it will mean and decide if it’s what they want.
There are no guarantees about who will win that argument; the American electorate is not exactly known for its ability to resist demagoguery and engage in thoughtful deliberation about complex policy questions. But some of those questions haven’t gotten nearly enough discussion until now. At least that’s something we might get.