Win on the campaign battlefield

Published January 4, 2024

By Thomas Mills

On Monday, I wrote my forecast for the upcoming election year. At one point, I predicted that the Supreme Court would not kick Trump off of the ballot, saying, “Whether he should be or not, I believe he needs to be defeated at the ballot box, not removed for a technicality, if we hope to change the trajectory of the country.” I got a lot of pushback for that statement.

I probably shouldn’t have downplayed a violation of the Constitution as a mere technicality, but I stand by my original premise. Our country is in a precarious situation. I don’t have all the answers, but I am confident that we are not going to get out of our predicament by fiat, judicial or otherwise. If we are to solve these problems, we need build a broad majority that moves the country forward together.

I believe that we still have a relatively large, moderate middle that does not hold strong ideological beliefs. The people who make up this middle have largely tuned out much of the political debate because it’s become too caustic and divisive. They are mostly not well-informed on current events or what’s happening in the new cycle. They aren’t up to speed on the latest Trump indictment or the most recent inflation report. They may have lost trust in a lot of our leaders but they still want to believe in our institutions, even if they, too, have become a bit jaded.

The goal of Democrats should be to bring these moderate voters into the fold by building trust in our institutions, even if that means compromising some beliefs or positions. To these less informed Americans, kicking Trump off of the ballot will sure look hypocritical for the party that claims it wants to save democracy, regardless of the merits of the case. Beating Trump at the ballot box two elections in a row will do more to restore their confidence in our electoral system while offering a strong contrast to the party that’s always whining about losing and making false accusations of fraud.

I am not naive. I believe Trump is an existential threat to the country and I know that he will not accept the results of the election. But I do not believe that removing Trump from the ballot will end the threat. The reactionary forces that fuel Trumpism are likely to gain momentum from a backlash to striking him from the ballot. More of that ill-informed middle that needs to be nudged along toward sanity and democracy will easily be misled by accusations that our system of choosing leaders has been undermined. Removing Trump might lead to consequences that leave us in a more dire situation. I’m more worried about that risk than I am about winning in November.

That we’re in this mess at all is infuriating. Republicans bear all of the blame. They had an obligation to our Constitution and our country that could have prevented us from being in this dilemma. Trump should have been impeached the first time. When they had a chance to correct their mistake, they took a pass, with several GOP Senators saying that dealing with Trump should be left to the courts. Those same Republicans now say he should be left on the ballot. They are a party devoid of integrity and honesty, beholden to a corrupt, reactionary base.

Again, the answer to ending the threat of a reactionary and authoritarian GOP is defeating them at the ballot box. It won’t likely happen in single election cycle, but a victory for Democrats in 2024 could serve as a strong foundation for building a big tent party while dealing a solid blow to the populists who dominate the Republican Party. Democrats need to sharpen their attacks on Republicans, defining them by their worst instincts, not just criticizing their domestic and foreign policies. Republicans have shown little restraint and no accountability. If they are going support people like Donald Trump, Mark Robinson, and Dan Bishop, they need to be defined by them. Democrats need to effectively educate the middle about who they really are. Consistently winning elections is the key to returning to sanity, but the process is slow because elections only happen every two years. We shouldn’t undermine the progress we’ve made.

To be clear, I won’t be disappointed if Trump is disqualified and, in normal circumstances, would believe that needs to happen. However, our circumstances are anything but normal. If he’s removed, I also won’t be surprised if we see a backlash that gives us a President DeSantis, Governor Robinson, and Attorney General Bishop. I’d rather take my chances on the campaign battlefield. I think Democrats can win the battle of ideas and convince the middle that they are the party that wants to govern, not the party that wants to rule.