If President Donald Trump wins a second term next week — and for the record I don’t believe he will — it will mark as great a turning point in the American experiment as anything since the Civil War.
The sense that the country can be governed by anything approaching a middle ground consensus will be gone. An economy that has barely hung together over the past few months will unravel, likely at stunning speed, as millions of Americans will face more than unemployment. They will lose homes, automobiles and food. It is indeed going to be a bleak winter.
But there is at least one huge reason for optimism and it’s only fitting. One hundred years after women finally won the battle to vote, they are going to save America. Really.
A “gender gap” has existed between the two political parties for years. Trump has made the gap the Grand Canyon of American politics. Women, make no mistake, are going to determine the next president. Moms and grandmothers don’t have a huge propensity to fail us, and they won’t this time.
Trump knows he’s in big trouble with women voters and goodness knows he should be. His weak plea in Wisconsin this week — “Suburban women, you’re going to love me. You better love me.” — is not the closing argument of a winner. Nor is his whiny begging recently in Pennsylvania. “Can I ask you to do me a favor, suburban women?” Trump said during a rally in Johnstown, earlier this month. “Will you please like me? Please.”
As Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei reported this week, new “Gallup polling finds Trump remains above 50 percent with rural residents, white men and white adults without college degrees, but Trump has “dropped nine points just this year with suburbanites — falling with both men and women — to 35 percent.” Trump won that demographic in 2016. Trump’s rickety standing with this critical group has been driven by women. They just aren’t into him anymore.
“In 2016, Donald Trump didn’t have a record. In 2020, now, he does,” said Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist and adviser to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. “That record is one that is really quite offensive, I think, to many Americans male and female, but especially women. And he leans into it.”
Pundits — including this one — too often over think politics. For many, maybe even most Americans, the presidential choice comes down to a pretty simple calculation: Who do I want in my living room every night for the next four years? We’ve had four years of bluster, bombast, boasting and bungling. We’re ready — perhaps women most particularly — for something different.
The Politico journalist Tim Alberta put a fine point on it recently when he wrote: “If Trump loses, the biggest factor won’t be COVID-19 or the economic meltdown or the social unrest. It will be his unlikability.”
All across America, Alberta wrote, “in conversations with voters about their choices this November, I’ve been hearing the same thing over and over again: ‘I don’t like Trump.’ (Sometimes there’s a slight variation: ‘I’m so tired of this guy,’ ‘I can’t handle another four years of this,’ etc. The remarkable thing? Many of these conversations never even turn to (Joe) Biden; in Phoenix, several people who had just voted for the Democratic nominee did not so much as mention his name in explaining their preference for president.”
The conservative writer Kevin D. Williamson — he writes often for William F. Buckley’s old magazine, The National Review — had a similar observation. Trump’s disreputable personal character, a glaring fixture of his very public being, but a feature largely ignored by his male supporters, is, Williamson says, finally catching up with him. The Twitter fights, the petty, mean name-calling, the failure to assume any responsibility for his shortcomings or obvious mistakes has become disqualifying for many, many voters who once saw the guy as an agent of change. Instead, he has become the spreader of division and disorder, not to mention a virus.
“Trump’s low character is not only an abstract ethical concern,” Williamson writes, “but a public menace that has introduced elements of chaos and unpredictability in U.S. government activity ranging from national defense to managing the coronavirus epidemic. Trump’s character problems are practical concerns, not metaphysical ones.”
Trump went into the last two weeks of the presidential campaign with a crazy agenda. He’s been trying to convince Americans that what we are all living with daily, a pandemic that he has downplayed and mismanaged at every step, was going away. He manufactured, and with the help of right-wing news organizations and social media, then transmitted a vast array of conspiracy theories about his opponent and the previous president of the United States. Trump has run not on a second term agenda — he has none — but on the same old litany of grievance, resentment, racism and fear that fueled his rise in the first place.
Nothing so clearly illustrates this reality than the president of the United States going this week to his must-win state of Wisconsin, a “state is in the midst of a full-on coronavirus crisis, setting new records for hospitalizations and sitting near the top of the list for per capita cases.” Against all logic he declared the virus contained.
The White House actually issued a press release this week claiming that defeating the pandemic was one of Trump’s signature accomplishments, a transparently ridiculous claim, as the writer Robert Schlesinger says, on par with “the Vichy government listing defeat of Germany among its accomplishments.”
Trump will win Idaho’s four electoral votes, but by a smaller margin than four years ago and the reason will be the votes of women, the same voters who have deserted him in the Philadelphia and Atlanta suburbs, in places like Maricopa County, Ariz., and even in Omaha. Top-of-the-ticket races in Idaho all favor the GOP, but the margins for Republicans are likely to be smaller than normal. Trump has no coattails and the stench of his presidency will infect the entire ticket.
Trump drew an inside straight four years ago against arguably the most unlikable presidential candidate in modern history, a woman who still won the popular vote by 3 million. Women are going to save American democracy in a few days. They’re just not into this guy. They’ve had enough. And they’re right.
Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.