What if Trump Were a Democrat?

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Janesville

George Marsden teaches us all an important lesson in historical empathy.  Here is a taste of his guest post at The Anxious Bench:

For those who are (as I am) puzzled and sometimes troubled by how so many fellow believers support and even celebrate Donald Trump and so seem to be ready to subordinate some of their religious and moral convictions to political expediency, I suggest a thought experiment:

Let’s suppose that in some slightly altered historical circumstances, Trump, or someone a lot like Trump, had decided he had a better chance playing the role of a populist Democrat.

Then, by promising everything to almost everyone, he had unexpectedly been elected.

Even if the Democratic Trump would have had to hide his racism, he would have been the same in his essential dishonesty, his constant attacks on the line between fact and fiction, his narcissism, his background of corruption, his record of exploitation of women (despite the Democratic Trump claiming to champion of equality and male accountability), his lack of discernible principle, his disdain for the Constitution and the rule of law, his intimations that his critics in the press should be suppressed, his vilification of his enemies, and his ignorance combined with reckless and ungenerous “America first” ventures in foreign policy.

At first, we can imagine, many principled Democrats would have deeply opposed his nomination and some would have declared themselves to be in the “NeverTrump” camp. But the rank and file would have been energized and many of the working classes would have been brought back to the party.

And then let’s say that the Democratic Trump administration would have succeeded in establishing a single-payer health-care system, tightened environmental regulations, instituted sensible gun-control laws, and appointed several Supreme Court justices who would ensure protections of progressive views for the next generation.

Read the rest here.

11 thoughts on “What if Trump Were a Democrat?

  1. John,
    You are correct that Marsden did not mention her by name but she is implicitly linked to a question Marsden raises. Specifically, how would the Democrats reconcile with a corrupt president of their own party? It is logical that the DEMs would have had to make their peace with a very dishonest, disingenuous, and venal politician. She is clearly no Adlai Stevenson. Illinois has produced the noble and the ignoble.


  2. Art Deco: I think you missed the point of the entire thought experiment. The very fact that Marsden describes this as a “fantasy” means one must try to imagine a different Trump, at least on policy.


  3. Trump’s signature issue was enforcing the immigration laws. He’s also deferred to the Federalist Society on judicial appointments. His candidacy has also been a challenge to the media as a political actor. No figure who did this would have have a chance in Democratic presidential primaries. Marsden’s thought experiment is silly.


  4. I think that it is only a matter of a coin toss that Trump ended up a Republican. As far as I can see, he does not have any over-arching political beliefs or principles, he does not subscribe to any political ideology. He has a smattering of pet-beliefs such as protectionism, but in loosely following Trump in the press over the past couple decades, his beliefs seem to land all over the mainstream political map. I suspect what pushed him into the Republican camp was more opportunity, that (given today’s political demographic and economic realities), the GOP offered a more responsive, populist base to exploit. A generation ago, I suspect he would have been a Democrat. Many (though not all) of his policies come straight out of an old AFL-CIO playbook. The GOP also offered opportunity in the form of a more open caucus in 2016, while the Democrat primaries heavily favored either Hillary or Bernie. I know there were a lot of cross-over votes of traditional Democrats in rust belt cities that voted for Trump. I suspect his victory in 2016 was a revolt of the bottom levels of our society against both parties, quite frankly, and that he simply reached for the reins of the lower hanging fruit, a GOP with a much more crowded, much more factionalized field at the time. But his common working man rhetoric would have been very much at home in the 1970s and 80s Democrat party.


  5. George Marsden’s piece makes an attempt to be thought-provoking and to some extent is successful. Yet it is flawed insofar as it is predicated upon the assumption that only Donald Trump is a truly morally imperfect human specimen. Had Hillary been elected in 2016, would Marsden have penned a comparable reflection? After all, her questionable character traits and behaviors are as long as those of The Donald.

    During the primaries of 2016, the DEMs did not have to pick Hillary. Despite all of his leftist extremism Bernie was for the most part free of scandal. It is ironic that the dishonest Clintons used under-handed means to win the party nomination for Hillary only to be defeated in the general election by a man whose practices DEMs now label as unethical. Had Bernie been the nominee, the DEMs might have a right to cast stones at Trump’s character. But Hillary………..?


  6. As hypotheticals go, this one is silly, but I’ll play.

    If Trump was a Democrat, he would never have made it past the first couple of primaries. How do I know? Easy — look at Al Franken. When inappropriate behavior was uncovered, the party moved quickly and decisively to get rid of one of their most prominent leaders. Also, in the Democratic party, you can’t have a racist history and expect to win many primaries. The African-American vote is crucial. So there’s little chance of a Democratic Trump.


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