Without minimizing the sheer magnitude of the danger that Trump's Administration represents, he begins by pointing out the cold reality. Had Hillary Clinton won the election Democrats would not be looking with optimism towards the 2018 midterms. Jon Ossoff would not be threatening to capture a majority in Georgia's Sixth Congressional District. Millions of people would not have turned out across the country in energized sympathy to the Women's March on Washington, all furiously intent on exerting a new paradigm of political power. The dullard, overfed corporate media would have fallen into its traditional stenography role, as a Republican-dominated House and Senate tediously explored ad nauseum 50 Shades of Benghazi, and anything else they could dredge up.
Democratic morale in general would have quickly collapsed as the "less likable" Clinton faced the same paralysis the GOP Congress imposed with moderate success on a far more charismatic and popular President Obama. 2018 would have probably been a Democratic wipeout and may well produced a filibuster-proof Republican Senate Majority.
On the home front, your normally apolitical "friends" on Facebook would not have discovered the newfound political enthusiasm that now prompts them share posts from Buzzfeed and Huffpo (as well as this site) with astonishing regularity upon waking in the morning, during their lunch breaks at work, and before going to bed at night, simply to commiserate in what millions in this country generally recognize as a unique national horror foisted upon us, as well as a clear and present threat to their children's futures.
But as we now are now seeing, that is not what happened:
Instead, Republicans under Trump are on the verge of catastrophe. Yes, they are about to gain a Supreme Court justice, no small thing, a host of federal judges, and a wide array of deregulation. Yet they are saddled with not only the most unpopular president at this point in time in the history of polling, but the potential for a partywide collapse, the contours of which they have not yet imagined.
As Paul Ryan had to acknowledge, the Republicans go-to shibboleth, "Obamacare", remains the law of the land, as the GOP belatedly discovered that repealing what millions have already begun to view as one of those accursed "entitlements" (i.e., good, affordable health care) is none too easy a task. As Chait points out, Republican rule gave the Affordable Care Act a popularity it had never enjoyed before:
The failure of the Republican health-care initiative was a sobering moment, when their early, giddy visions of the possibilities of full party control of government gave way to an ugly reality of dysfunction, splayed against the not-so-distant backdrop of a roiled Democratic voting base. They have ratcheted back their expectations. But they have not ratcheted them far enough. By the time President Trump has left the scene, what now looks like a shambolic beginning, a stumbling out of the gate, will probably feel like the good old days.
As proof, just follow the little green line in the chart below:
Meanwhile, the Republican Party's yugely unpopular standard bearer finds himself faced with the unenviable task of following through with promises he cannot keep—a sure-fire recipe for a demoralized voter base in upcoming midterms and beyond:
Building the wall will be difficult and time-consuming. Renegotiating Nafta in a dramatically favorable way, as Michael Grunwald explains, is probably impossible. Republican standbys like cutting taxes for the rich and loosening regulations on Wall Street and greenhouse gases are feasible, but all deeply unpopular. All those achievements would also be easily reversible in a way Obama's biggest policy accomplishments were not. The tax cuts will almost certainly have to expire automatically after a decade. Trump's deregulatory agenda will be reversed by the next Democratic president.
The increasing evidence of Trump's corrosive involvement with Russian oligarchs and mobsters will also cast a dark pallor over every action he makes throughout his term, assuming he lasts that long without being thrown in jail. His impotence in dealing with Congress on the abortive repeal of the Affordable Care Act was amply demonstrated as the firebrand conservatives who make up the core of the GOP base ended up treating him with the disdain of a seasoned prostitute encountering a flaccid John:
And Trump is not a shrewd politician. A string of horrifying leaks has depicted a man far too mentally limited to do his job competently.The president is too ignorant of policy — he simply agrees with whomever he spoke with last — to even conduct basic policy negotiations with friendly members of Congress who want him to succeed. Nor does Trump know enough to even identify competent people to whom he can delegate his work. He's a rank amateur who listens and delegates to other amateurs.
Trump's obvious incompetence also bodes ill for when he faces—as all Presidents do—a crisis of national proportions, be it a natural disaster, a serious outbreak of disease, or a compulsory response to foreign aggression. Chait points out that the realities of this world do not accommodate themselves well to buffoons—or their enablers:
Avoiding nuclear war should be understood as shorthand for a long list of national disasters that could ensue from Trump's incompetent leadership — pandemics, wars, natural-disaster response — that would be terrible for the country as a whole and also terrible for the Republican Party. The damage could last a long time.
Meanwhile the white working class suckers who voted for the most part to punish their brown neighbors are going to dwindle, whether they are supplanted by robots taking their jobs away or simply succumbing to more desperate means of assuaging their economic "pain." Neither the robust economy that Trump inherited from Obama nor the artificially inflated stock market whose apotheosis we are now witnessing are going to last forever in the hands of an Administration whose main feature is its shoddy rudderlessness. Meanwhile, the demographics against Trump—women, people of color, and educated white males with any sense of social conscience--are being infused by each atrocity committed against them with a terrible resolve:
The power of ethnonationalism... is that it manipulates the most base and emotionally accessible ideas about politics. But that power is also a source of danger to the party that tries to weaponize it: If it backfires, it activates equally powerful emotions against it. And while the fight to preserve the American ideal from Trump's ethnonationalism is hardly assured, there is every sign it will backfire.
Chait concludes, with unusual certitude, that by supporting Trump the Republicans made a bargain with the Devil that is ultimately going to bite them hard in a place they least expected:
Almost the entire GOP decided its hatred or fear of Clinton overrode their misgivings about their own nominee, and, with varying levels of enthusiasm, supported Trump. They brought disaster upon their country, but as a small measure of compensatory justice, they have also brought it upon their party. By the time Trump has departed the Oval Office, they will look longingly at a staid, boxed-in Clinton presidency as a road not taken.
There is no doubt that millions of people are going to suffer as a consequence of this malevolent Administration, and Chait is not suggesting—as some may infer—that Trump's victory was somehow "preferable" to having a Democrat in the White House. In the end he is offering only cold comfort, perhaps, in light of this catastrophic fool that the GOP has inflicted on us.