What To Expect From A Trump Second Term
Endgaming the endgame.
Look: I don’t like thinking about it either.
As things stand, we’re well on our way to a third consecutive Republican ticket led by Donald John Trump. And when the former President receives the nomination in the summer of 2024, it will be only a short while after the ninth anniversary of the launch of his first campaign in 2015. That’s nearly a decade of constant, wall-to-wall coverage of a stupid, annoying, and profoundly one-dimensional man. I’m sick of it. You’re sick of it. The entire country is sick of it. But because Trump had the courage to break all the rules of politics and turn the Republican Party into a personality cult (admittedly, a very innovative move), we’re stuck with him until he gets a second term or he dies.
Which of these will happen first? It seems like it should be a straightforward question, because while the latter outcome is very, very imaginable, the former outcome is the exact opposite. The idea of Trump, in the face of his historic unpopularity, his disastrous tenure, his past defeats, Dobbs, the conspiracies, violence, and, well, everything, putting it together and winning a national election again—it just doesn’t compute. And, yes, I’m very well aware that a Trump victory felt like an impossibility in 2016, when he did win. I’m also aware it felt like even more of an impossibility in 2020, when he came pretty close to winning. But it just feels extra impossible this time. Unlike Trump’s past two runs, it’s hard to even craft a convincing story to explain why he will come out on top. He’s just too damaged, too demonstrably weak. It shouldn’t be a possibility.
And yet it is. While they’ve only received truly sustained attention over the past few weeks, national polls between Trump and President Joe Biden, his near-certain opponent, have shown a very competitive race for not just months, but years. This isn’t due to anything Trump has done. He’s still just as unpopular and toxic as ever. What has changed is Biden’s standing. While the President may have arguably been Trump’s strongest possible opponent three years ago, he clearly isn’t now. Events have caught up with our incumbent in a major way, degrading his once-potent political brand into one a husk of what it once was, with some of the lowest favorables this side of Hillary Clinton. While the odds may still be in the President’s favor—I’ve gone over why here and here—you’re just never a sure thing when you’re as unpopular as Biden is right now. Whether you accept it, deny it, or ignore it completely, this is simply a fact. And it’s a fact that’s been bearing out time and time again in some of the most important indicators we have.
So, what if everything goes wrong? What if Biden totally blows it, and we wake up in November next year to President-elect Trump once again? Truth be told, it’s impossible to account for everything like we did in the last article. Unlike Biden, Trump is not running a typical campaign with a clear program. He’s fueled by pure spite and revenge now more than ever before. Even things as simple and iconic as “The Wall” have been thrown to the wayside in favor of shockingly dark and sinister broadsides about corruption and stolen elections. He is angrier than ever before, which is the part of a potential Trump redux that I, nor anybody else, can map out. To have an executive branch engaged in an all-out war against the basic foundations of its own government would leave us in truly uncharted waters. I can’t really say what would happen if this comes to pass at the extent that it looks like it could. Could Trump make himself a dictator? Could the military overthrow him? Could the country break down into outright civil war? Your guess is as good as mine. The one thing I can say with certainty that not many people will care much about the 2026 senate elections under such circumstances.
But while it’s important to keep in mind just how extreme Trump’s 2024 campaign has been, it’s also worth remembering that we’ve more or less done this before. He was, after all, the President, and for no less than four years. Despite all the worries on the part of liberals about a potential constitutional crisis, it never truly came, at least not until the last possible moment. The system sustained itself enough that Democrats managed to win back both houses of Congress and the presidency at a historically quick pace. The typical small-d democratic process of cause and effect still played out, with major consequences. And in any outcome outside of a full-blown collapse of the federal government, the same system will be at work during a second Trump administration, changing history just as much as it did before.
So, ruling out a total breakdown of the social order, what would happen if lightning strikes a second time? How would a second nonconsecutive Trump term impact the short-, medium-, and long-term trajectories of American politics? This is the question that this article seeks to answer. To begin, we start with déjà vu.
Scenario One: 2016 Redux
The Result: If you’re a fan of stressful election nights or just stress in general, this is your ideal outcome. Just like in 2020, the results here would take days to finally come in definitively, although the result would be slightly different. Assuming a national result split down the middle—between, say, Biden+1.5 and a tie—Trump’s path to victory would come primarily through diverse and religious states across the Sun Belt, where polling and recent trends indicate that Trump will have greater opportunities for gains compared to whiter, more educated, and more secular swing states up north. If these trends hold and the race is close, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada are all very plausible flips from blue to red, which, combined with the 2020 Republican states, would get Trump to 268 electoral votes—just two away from a majority. From there, his task would be to break through in at least one of the northern states that handed him his victory in 2016.
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