His first day cloaked in presidential dignity he spent disputing photographic proof that his inauguration crowd was substantially smaller than his immediate predecessor’s. Trump’s day of complaining continued at the CIA headquarters, at the wall commemorating those who died serving the agency. His presidency that began with a wallow in self-pity probably will end in ignominy when he slinks away pouting, trailing clouds of recriminations, without a trace of John McCain’s graciousness on election night 2008:
“Sen. [Barack] Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country. I applaud him for it, and offer my sincere sympathy that his beloved grandmother did not live to see this day — though our faith assures us she is at rest in the presence of her Creator and so very proud of the good man she helped raise. . . . And my heart is filled with nothing but gratitude . . . to the American people for giving me a fair hearing before deciding that Sen. Obama and my old friend, Sen. Joe Biden, should have the honor of leading us for the next four years.”
Just 12 years separate the nation from this tradition of political competition bounded by banisters of good manners. Subsequently, the Republican Party has eagerly surrendered its self-respect. And having hitched its wagon to a plummeting cinder, the party is about to have a rendezvous with a surly electorate wielding a truncheon. The party picked a bad year to invite a mugging, a year ending in zero: Approximately 80 percent of state legislative seats will be filled this year, and next year the occupants, many of them Democrats wafted into office by a wave election, will redraw congressional districts based on the 2020 Census.
After Democrats controlled the House for 40 years (1954-1994), control of it changed under four presidents (Bill Clinton in 1994, George W. Bush in 2006, Obama in 2010, Trump in 2018). Trump’s legacy might include a decade of Democratic control of the House.
Political prophecy is an optional folly, but occasionally, as now, it might be useful by encouraging eligible voters to take the trouble to participate in a historic correction. It is not yet probable, but is not highly improbable, that Joe Biden can become the first candidate in 32 years to capture more than 400 electoral votes (George H.W. Bush, 426 in 1988). He can do this by carrying some Trump 2016 states where Biden is either leading or within the margin of polling error — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and Texas.
Texas is the most important red state: Without its electoral votes (38 today; probably 41 in 2024), the Republican path to 270 is dauntingly narrow. Trump’s 52 percent in Texas in 2016 was the lowest Republican total in 24 years (when Bob Dole split the anti-Clinton vote with Ross Perot). With seven of the nation’s 15 fastest-growing cities (El Paso is almost the size of Boston; San Antonio is twice the size of Seattle), Texas illustrates the Republican Party’s understandable antipathy toward that which it exists to persuade: the electorate. Texas’s Republican governor, with the elastic scruples of his party, has ordered (this is being litigated) that each of the state’s 254 counties shall have only one drop-off site for absentee ballots — one for Loving County (population 169), one for Harris County (Houston, population 4.7 million, 70 percent non-White), one for Brewster County, whose size (6,192.3 square miles) could hold Connecticut with room remaining for more than half of Rhode Island.
The GOP’s desire — demonstrated in myriad measures in many states — for low voter turnout is prudent: As the nation becomes more urban, suburban, diverse and secular, the Republican Party becomes more fixated on rural and small-town White voters. Thirty-six percent of Americans lived in rural areas in 1950; in 1990, 25 percent did; today, 17.5 percent do. Now, the rural population, 60 million, is about what it was in 1945. Since then, the urban population has almost tripled.
Analyst Charlie Cook asks: “In 2016, 87 percent of Trump’s vote came from whites. For congressional Republicans in the 2018 midterms, it was 86 percent. Is this sustainable?” You have to admire Republicans’ jaunty, if suicidal, wager that it is.