Why Are the Media and Most Politicians Acting Like This is a Normal Election Year?

Today, I will be mercifully brief (by my standards).

Although I have a long backlog of columns yet to be written that are not at all about electoral politics, I find myself being pulled back into that most soul-deadening of topics over and over again.  Some days, I find that I can write about, say, business regulation or fear-mongering about the federal debt.  Too often, however, it is impossible to ignore that there is now open talk of political killings.  The media's coverage of such threats is mixed in with coverage of presidential primaries and conspiracy theories about Taylor Swift, which is beyond weird, but here we are.

I am not writing this column, however, in response to yet another specific, newsworthy, norm-shattering story.  Instead, I want to explain why it makes absolutely no sense for the media or anyone else to be talking about whether one candidate can surge past another candidate, or who will be the VP pick for Republicans, or anything like that.  The cliche about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic does not even begin to describe how detached from reality all of this is.

We can start with the so-called "race" for the Republican presidential nomination.  Once everyone except Nikki Haley and Donald Trump had dropped out, there was immediate chatter about whether the big-money donors who were backing Haley could somehow help her engineer a surprise win and knock Trump out.  Why have that conversation?  Evidently, it is comforting for some pundits and reporters to act as if this is just another quadrennial intramural battle.  But honestly, what would happen if Haley did indeed become more competitive?

The answer is obviously that Trump would start to talk menacingly about at least two possibilities.  One would be to call out his minions to storm the Republicans' nominating convention, after spending the preceding weeks and months threatening every party official and delegate both politically and physically.  Would the party bigwigs and major donors who have spent eight years too afraid of mean tweets stand up to that onslaught?

That is impossible to imagine, especially in light of the second possibility, which is that Trump would run as an independent out of spite.  This would guarantee (save for one scenario that I will discuss momentarily) that Joe Biden serve a second term as President.  And given that many Republicans and their billionaire backers hate Democrats more than anything else (even the loss of the rule of law), they would immediately give Trump what he wanted.

More to the point, were Trump actually to bolt from the party, he could destroy Republicans' chances up and down the ballot, even in red states.  Would Rick Scott, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley be willing to put their otherwise assured reelection chances at risk?  This would not merely be a matter of their party being locked out of the White House for another four years.  This would be an actual political death sentence for plenty of people who have no serious alternative employment prospects (and who are addicted to power).  There is no way that they would allow Haley's nomination to happen.

But what if they did?  As I noted above, it is not in fact a certainty that Trump's independent run would guarantee that Biden would stay in the White House.  Biden might well win the election (even under the absurdly anti-democratic rules that govern current elections, from the Electoral College to Republicans' aggressive -- and depressingly successful -- voter suppression efforts), but that does not mean that he would in fact be able to stay in office.  How much political violence would we see after Trump declared that both Democrats and Republicans had conspired to take what was rightfully his?  "I am your retribution" indeed.

Almost certainly, therefore, it will be Trump as the Republican nominee, and the stale political conversation that is currently treating the primary season as the same old same-old will continue through November.  But Trump and the Republicans are even more ruthless now than they were in 2020-21, and they have figured out what they need to get right this time around in terms of flipping states and electoral votes, along with House and Senate challenges on January 6, 2025, and all the rest.  And if none of that works, violence.

Is it a lock that Trump could pull off a coup this time?  Of course not.  We might even find that the system holds up again, somehow.  But if so, it will not be for lack of extremist tactics by Trumpists.

I was going to write that the only way for there to be no political violence this year would be if Trump actually won under the current rules.  Even that, however, assumes that he would bother to wait until November 6 to unleash hell.  Consider just one headline (from CNBC) immediately prior to the 2022 midterm elections: "Election officials combat voter intimidation across U.S. as extremist groups post armed militia at some polls."  Look for a lot more of that.

In the meantime, even the supposedly left-leaning media like MSNBC will have Steve Kornacki excitedly running around a studio spitting out poll numbers and updates.  Nothing unusual to see here, folks.  Just another US presidential election.  Ignore those goose-stepping cultists hanging out over there with their (completely legal) guns.  Sleep well, America.