Donald Trump’s recent blowout wins in Nevada and South Carolina have started to upend America’s political scene in ways which would have been utterly unpredictable one year ago, when the conventional wisdom was that the 2016 election would be a repeat of Bush vs. Clinton.
Trump’s recent wins are beginning to cause the fracture within the Republican Party which has been predicted since his poll numbers failed to go down during the fall and winter of 2015, despite increasingly outrageous public statements.
But Trump’s wins have also started to concern people on the Democratic side as they look forward to the general election. Turnout numbers from the first four early states have seen lower participation from Democrat voters and record participation among Republican voters, according to CBS. As Damon Linker of The Week points out, Hillary Clinton’s enormous baggage regarding her email scandal will become an issue in the general election which she may be unprepared to defend against.
And yet, if there is any candidate the Democrats should want to go against in the general election right now, it should be Trump. And I’ll even start from the assumption that Trump will be an incredibly competitive candidate against Clinton in a general election and could, in fact, beat her (assuming his entire campaign doesn’t implode).
Trump, as a candidate, advocates for immigration policies which the Democratic Party reviles. However, he also advocates for certain economic policies which they find palatable: he does not want to cut entitlement programs, he has been supportive of liberal health care policies in the past, and at times, advocates for a more restrained foreign policy than consistent hawks like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
So, on the one end, the Democrats can rail against Trump’s incendiary rhetoric, the racist attitudes and displays shown by groups of his supporters, and the endorsement from David Duke.
But they can also point to the fact that his economic proposals are so thoroughly un-conservative that they represent a violent repudiation of the Republican Party’s traditional views on taxes, budgets and the economy in general. Donald Trump’s typical supporters are not concerned with whether or not the capital gains tax gets slashed, which is a prospect Republican elites find frightening.
As Amanda Marcotte of Salon dutifully points out, Cruz and Rubio are conservative ideologues; Trump is not. This alone is a reason Democrats should want to run against him; on a whole spate of economic issues, a President Trump may be more agreeable to congressional Democrats than he would be to congressional Republicans.
Something else which is not being discussed much right now is that a Trump candidacy increases the chances that the Democrats can retake the Senate in November. Such a prospect has alarmed conservative Republican elites, many of whom have pledged to campaign against Trump, should he win the nomination, and focus on state races.
With the Republicans divided in this way, and with a Supreme Court nomination on voters’ minds, Democrats would be wise to focus particular attention to Senate seats up for reelection in swing states.
Since Trump is somewhat of a “black box” candidate -- meaning we have no way of knowing what kind of policies he will try to enact until he actually has executive power -- it may be foolish to assume that he won’t turn out to be staunchly conservative in practice. But the Democratic Party has more to fear from a President Cruz or President Rubio because they would have the full backing of a wholly Republican Congress. There would be no question of what either of their presidencies would mean for the Democrats.
With Trump, it is not so clear. Considering that the Republican Party has now all but pledged to run against Trump should he win the party’s nomination, it can’t be hard to imagine that a President Trump would try to inflict political harm on congressional Republicans who opposed him during his campaign by denying attention to their policy priorities.
Donald Trump, therefore, is simultaneously the candidate whom may be the most difficult for Hillary Clinton to beat in a general election, but who would also present the most opportunities for Democrats to increase their political presence in Congress and preserve certain of their favored policies after November, should he be elected president.