What happens if it's a "Flight 93 Election" and your side is corkscrewing down into the earth? That's the prospect facing once and possibly future Trumpists. It's undeniable at this point: Trump's falling behind and flailing. He's alienating white voters, and not gaining enough of any other kind. One day he’s tweeting about cracking down on rioters, the next day he’s boasting about letting felons out of prison early. Between his own disjointed statements and the press' near-uniform determination not to let him have a single good news day, he's unable to get credit even for popular accomplishments. His campaign is run by an unfirable relative who has proven time and again to have the worst political judgment** since -- well, it's hard to find precursors because most campaign managers had to actually win one or two elections before getting the chance to blow a presidential re-election.
If Trump loses, and in the process Democrats retain the House and win back the Senate, they will have the chance to do big things, by ending the filibuster if they have to. On many issues, they’re split — but one big thing they’ll be able to agree on is passing a giant Gang-of-8 style amnesty bill. They supported it before.; the bill’s already written. They see a mass influx of immigrants (not irrationally) as the guarantor of a more liberal electorate on into the future. And it will be irreversible, Once you amnesty you can't go back. You can reverse tax increases. You can revise regulations. You can even end welfare entitlements (it happened in 1996). But we're not going to kick large numbers of people out of the country who’ve been admitted legally, even if they are still on a "pathway" to citizenship and not yet citizens, even if the courts would allow it, which they won't.
Would that be so terrible? Yes, it would. I voted for Trump in large part to prevent it. We could probably absorb the millions of illegals already living here — but a precedent will have been set. We will have had two huge amnesties -- 1986 and 2021. People all over the world who might want to come here illegally will reasonably conclude there will one day be a third. And a fourth. The United States will be set on a path of serial amnesties. Stopping the cycle will be increasingly impossible as the electorate becomes increasingly Democratic.
The result will be a permanent change in what America is, and whether we can control our future. Basically, we'll be a nation open to the planet's free moving labor, in which market capitalism automatically wins out over concens of equality, community, and culture.
Just focusing on equality, the negative effect of unchecked labor mobility seems undeniable -- it's impossible for unskilled workers to increase their incomes if a reserve army of (blameless) Second and Third Worlders stands ready to flood the market anytime wages increase (or even when they don’t). In part due to past flooding, we already have an economy in which workers at the bottom are unable to make enough to lead a respectable life without large subsidies, subsidies that are often themselves demeaning. Worse, the distribution of income becomes radically conditioned by schooling and smarts -- if you’re a high school or even a college dropout, you're at the bottom, and probably stuck there. It becomes all too easy for the better credentialed and better insulated to look down their noses at such people, even if they don’t wind up hiring them as servants. Social equality -- i.e. "as Americans ... we must be equal in the eyes of each other" -- becomes difficult, maybe unattainable.
Theat's why the fantasizing about Trump abandoning his attempt at reelection should probably be taken seriously and even egged on — by those of us who voted for him as well as by anonymous “GOP operatives” who probably didn’t. Trump himself is clearly thinking a lot about losing these days, as when he mused, absurdly, that President Joe Biden would have to finish his border wall. “And he’s going to be your President because some people don’t love me maybe.”
What would happen if he decided to avoid possible humiliation? Well, the Democratic party, currently held together by antipathy to Trump, would lose its overriding purpose. The intensity level of the Dem campaign will instantly drop. Millions who might turn out to get rid of Trump will stay at home. The lightning rod having wandered off with all the electricity, everything will probably become very boring very quickly. The Democrats’ nominee is so weak that Republicans, depending on whom they picked, might still have a chance at retaining the White House. And they’d likely have a much better chance of retaining the Senate -- the key to blocking any 2021 Gang-of-8 amnesty.***
The problem is, if Trumps going to do this, he should do it soon -- before the convention, while there's time to consider possible replacements and let voters get used to whomever is picked. Pence would be the most likely choice, of course, but there are other possibilities.**** The trick would be to keep Never Trumpers, who wouldn’t mind a crushing GOP loss or a massive amnesty, from choosing someone suicidally swampy. But how many delegates do they have?
It’s not that Trump has no time to turn the race around. He has plenty of time. The "Faster Politics" phenomenon means there’s effectively even more time for a GOP comeback than in previous cycles (even it the pandemic does not seem to have embraced the Feiler thesis). But precisely because there’ll be hope of a swift turnaround for a long period after the convention, by the time it becomes obvious Trump really is doomed, it will be way too late to switch.*****
That's a risk you can take in an ordinary Dukakis-Bush, Clinton-Dole election, where the stakes are taxes, health care and foreign policy. It's not a tolerable risk if the downside is a fundamental national loss- — the same calculation, viewed from a different vantage point, that led so many to take a chance on an outlandish candidate four years ago.
** — Among Jared Kushner’s greatest hits: Urging his father-in-law to fire James Comey, to hire Anthony Scaramucci, to back Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama’s GOP primary, to replace Pence with Nikki Haley, to oppose Jeff Sessions in the 2017 current Alabama GOP primary. He seems to believe the First Step Act, his one legislative achievement, will win Trump significantly more African-American votes than it loses Trump elsewhere.
***— If Democrats win the presidency they will almost certainly retain control in the House, even if they don’t win the Senate. That makes the upper chamber the last chance for blocking a Gang-of-8 amnesty — with a filibuster if necessary. It’s true that the Senate passed the Gang of 8 bill in 2013 with 14 Republican votes. But today’s GOP base is way more hostile to border-opening measures than it was then. (That’s one thing Trump has accomplished). Republican senators — even cheap-labor creatures like Thom Tillis — may be reluctant to anger them.
****— This scenario can’t be too far from the front of Mitt Romney’s mind, for example. Or Tom Cotton’s. Or Josh Hawley’s. Or Nikki Haley’s. Do I hear Mitch Daniels?
*****— I admit I also called in Newsweek for Michael Dukakis to drop out in 1988, long after the convention, on the grounds that he was losing and his running mate, Lloyd Bentsen, would do better. Was I wrong?