Those who don’t remember recent history are doomed to repeat it

Tonight at 8 p.m. ct, former president Donald Trump will announce that he’s running for president again, whether or not anyone actually wants to start the 2024 presidential race this early.

Yesterday, I argued that the GOP nominating Ron DeSantis would be better in the long run for conservatives, better for independents and centrists, and even better for liberals in some ways. Unsurprisingly, a lot of people didn’t want to hear that, and they spent a lot of time furiously denouncing the argument — with many progressives adamantly insisting that DeSantis represents an even greater threat to the country than Trump does. These folks have no idea how predictable they are.

Dear nationalist-populists who voted for Donald Trump twice: Trump is too erratic to get you where you where you want to go.

Dear liberals: This is the chance to get rid of Trump once and for all. If you meant everything or anything you said about him over the past eight years, you must not help him in a primary fight against DeSantis.

Even if you’re a true believer in Trump’s nationalist-populist vision for the country, it’s far from clear that another four years of an aging president who’s easily distracted, self-destructively vindictive, and obsessed with what’s being said about him on cable news is really the best vehicle to get you where you want to go.

In a recent interview with the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, Trump mused, “The question I get asked more than any other question: ‘If you had it to do again, would you have done it?’ The answer is, yeah, I think so. Because here’s the way I look at it. I have so many rich friends and nobody knows who they are.” Trump’s idea of a successful presidency is one that keeps his name in the news, not one that passes laws and changes policy.

Trump is the kind of man who keeps gabbing with Haberman, then turns around and publicly rages at what Haberman writes about him. Trump is a reflexive contrarian with zero impulse control, which means that he’s always metaphorically sticking forks into electrical sockets after he’s been warned not to, just to prove he doesn’t have to follow anyone else’s rules. He resents instruction and limits much more than he fears electrocution.

Unsurprisingly, the early response suggests that neither one of these groups wanted to hear my argument. Many progressives were downright livid that I could contend that Ron DeSantis is any less a menace to the world than Donald Trump is.

In the coming year, you’re going to see a lot of “DeSantis is actually worse than Trump” op-eds like Jamelle Bouie’s bonkers “DeSantis lacks Trump’s soft edges” contention from a few months ago.

In this year’s midterms, Democrats spent at least $53 million to promote 13 extreme, fringe, and election-denying Republican candidates in GOP primaries. Six of those candidates won their primaries; all of them lost in the general election. Separately, the Arizona Democratic Party chose to take a whack at Kari Lake’s more moderate primary rival, Karrin Taylor Robson, at a key moment during the GOP primary. The Arizona governor’s race was called for Democrat Katie Hobbs last night.

Promoting the more extreme and weaker GOP candidates worked for Democrats, at least this year. Thus, I suspect we’re going to see a lot of liberals and Democrats subtly and not-so-subtly seeking to help Trump win the GOP presidential nomination — even though they think that if he wins in 2024, it would be the end of American democracy.

The stunning thing is that we’ve been in this exact situation before, with liberals and Democrats convincing themselves that they should promote and tout Trump, convinced that he could never win, and that even if he did, he would be too incompetent to hurt their interests.

Back in February 2016, Matt Yglesias said he was more worried about Marco Rubio than Donald Trump. Jonathan Chait wrote, “Why liberals should support a Trump nomination” and contended that his readers should “earnestly and patriotically support a Trump Republican nomination.” Maureen Dowd called Trump’s campaign “wickedly fun” and “wildly useful to have an id agitating amid the superegos.” Robert Reich insisted that “Ted Cruz is even more dangerous than Donald Trump,” and warned that Cruz was “a loner who’s willing to destroy government institutions to get his way.” And Amanda Marcotte wrote that, “Rubio and Cruz are the real monsters: Liberals should be rooting for Trump — and he’ll be easier to beat come November.” And at Washington Monthly, David Atkins wrote:

We can still thank Donald Trump and his supporters for doing the country a service. There is little Trump or his backers could do that would outweigh the blessing they are providing by disempowering and humiliating the traditional Republican establishment. No matter how uncomfortable Trump’s crowds may make us, they pale in comparison to the disgust we should feel at the politics of Karl Rove and David Brooks.

And these are just liberal columnists; this isn’t even getting into the estimated $2 billion in free media that Trump received in 2016 in the form of the endless deluge of news and commentary about his campaign on television, in newspapers and magazines, and on social media. The cable-news world was so obsessed with Trump and everything he said and did that it broadcast images of an empty podium, waiting for him to arrive, while Hillary Clinton was giving speeches elsewhere.

Around the same time, CBS executive chairman Leslie Moonves expressed glee about the giant ratings bonanza represented by Trump’s presidential campaign:

“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” he said of the presidential race.

Moonves called the campaign for president a “circus” full of “bomb throwing,” and he hopes it continues.

“Most of the ads are not about issues. They’re sort of like the debates,” he said.

“Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? . . . The money’s rolling in and this is fun,” he said.

Hey, anybody want to take any of that that back after “stop the steal”? How’s everyone feeling about all that “fun” now?

It appears that no one learned anything from 2016. As the character Rust Cohle lamented on True Detective, “Time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done, or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again.”

Many progressives absolutely cannot see the consequences when they argue that Ron DeSantis is a worse and more dangerous fascist than Donald Trump, who was a worse and more dangerous fascist than Mitt Romney, who was a worse and more dangerous fascist than John McCain, who was a worse and more dangerous fascist than George W. Bush, who was a worse and more dangerous fascist than Bob Dole, who was a worse and more dangerous fascist than George H. W. Bush, who was a worse and more dangerous fascist than Ronald Reagan.

When every major Republican figure is denounced in the same rote, unthinking way, lots of people start believing that either no figure is genuinely dangerous, or they shrug and conclude that they themselves must be so-called fascists, too.

But there are genuine differences among Republicans. A really controversial day under Ron DeSantis involves the state of Florida chartering a flight to move 48 Venezuelan asylum seekers from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

A really controversial day under Donald Trump is January 6, 2021.

What do you think happens if the GOP nominates Trump, and we get a result along the lines of 2020 again — a Biden or Kamala Harris victory that comes down to a slim margin in one or several key states? Do you think Trump will concede graciously and retire from public life? Or do you think we’ll get a even bigger, angrier, more widespread, more violent effort to overturn the election results?

There are good and smart people who tell me, with mind-blowing confidence, that the scenario I described could never come to pass. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are just too popular, the country is just too pleased with what Democrats have done in office so far, the economy will certainly be in great shape by autumn 2024, and there could never be some sort of giant curveball such as Covid-19 that turns the political environment upside down.

Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it; apparently the same goes for those who don’t remember recent history.

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