The Democratic nominee, whoever it turns out to be, should use the president’s contortions and carrying-on against him.
The person most capable of defeating Donald Trump is Donald Trump. If Democrats are smart, they will let him do the job.
President Trump thrives on outrage and resentment. He seethes with it, stirs it in others and mines it for his own political profit. His political project relies on driving Americans to their cultural and ideological corners. He is Pavlov. We are the dogs.
Mr. Trump’s serial assaults on the decency and the decorum upon which civil society depends are enraging — and meant to be. It is only natural to respond to his every provocation with righteous indignation.
My advice to the Democratic nominee next year is: Donʼt play.
Wrestling is Mr. Trump’s preferred form of combat. But beating him will require jiu-jitsu, a different style of battle typically defined as the art of manipulating an opponent’s force against himself rather than confronting it with one’s own force.
Mr. Trump was elected to shake things up and challenge the political establishment. And to many of his core supporters, his incendiary dog whistles, bullhorn attacks and nonstop flouting of “political correctness” remain energizing symbols of authenticity.
But polling and focus groups reflect a growing unease among a small but potentially decisive group of voters who sided with Mr. Trump in 2016 but are increasingly turned off by the unremitting nastiness, the gratuitous squabbles and the endless chaos he sows.
Plenty of attention has been paid to the historic shift in suburban areas Mr. Trump narrowly carried in 2016 but that broke decisively with his party last fall. That revolt was led by college-educated white women, who overwhelmingly turned against Republican candidates.
But what should be of even greater concern to Mr. Trump is the potential erosion among the non-college-educated white women he is counting on as a core constituency. Those women gave Mr. Trump a 27-point margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Yet in a recent Fox News poll, Mr. Trump was beating former Vice President Joe Biden by just four points in that group.
If I were sitting in the Trump war room, this number, more than any other, would alarm me. He won the presidency by the slimmest of margins in three battleground states. With little place to grow, even a small erosion of support among these women could prove fatal to Mr. Trump’s chances. While they are inclined to many of his positions, the thing that is driving these voters away is Mr. Trump himself.
And one thing we can be sure of as the election approaches: Donald Trump is not going to change.
Given that Mr. Trump’s approval rating has been hovering around 40 percent throughout his presidency, his obvious and only strategy is to turn his dial further into the red. He will try to raise the stakes by painting the election as a choice between himself and a radical, left-wing apocalypse. He will bay about
- open bordersand
- “deep state” corruption
and relentlessly work to inflame and exploit racial and cultural divides.
But as Mr. Trump seeks to rev up his base, he also runs a significant risk of driving away a small but decisive cohort of voters he needs. His frenetic efforts to create a panic over the immigrant caravan in the days leading up to the 2018 midterms may have stoked his base, but it also generated a backlash that contributed to major losses for his party.
With everything on the line and nothing, to his mind, out of bounds, the same dynamic will be in play in 2020, and this creates an opportunity for Democrats — if their party’s message allows Trump defectors to comfortably cross that bridge.
There is a legion of arguments on moral, ethical and policy grounds for Mr. Trump’s defeat, and that’s leaving out the sheer incompetence. But the most effective question for Democrats to get voters to ask is simply whether the country can survive another four years like this.
Can we continue to wake each day to the tweets and tantrums, the nasty, often gratuitous fights and the ensuing turmoil that surrounds this president? Can we make progress on issues of concern to the way millions of people live their lives with a leader who looks for every opportunity to divide us for his own political purposes? And is a Trump freed of the burden of re-election really going to be less combative and more constructive in a second term? Um, no.
Each time Mr. Trump lashes out, as he will with increasing ferocity and frequency as the election approaches, these questions will gain more resonance. Every erratic escalation — every needless quarrel, firing or convulsive policy lurch — will provide additional evidence in the case for change.
Mr. Trump’s impulse is always to create a binary choice, forcing Americans to retreat to tribe. He wants to define the battle around divisive cultural issues that will hem in his supporters, and it would be seductive for Democrats to chase every tweeted rabbit down the hole. The president would welcome a pitched battle over lines of race, ideology and culture.
But while Mr. Trump’s thermonuclear politics may rally both his base and Democrats who slumbered in 2016, it is the paralyzing disorder and anxiety his bilious behavior creates that is a distressing turnoff to voters at the margins who will make the difference.
To win, the Democrats will have turn Mr. Trump’s negative energy against him without embodying it themselves.
Billboards. TV campaigns. Radio programs. The anti-immigrant government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban uses different levers to influence public opinion, particularly on the subject of the European refugee crisis.
Even school textbooks.
On page 155 of the latest 8th-grade history textbook, students are told that Mr. Orban thinks refugees are a threat to Hungary — and then encouraged to believe he is right. “It can be problematic,” the book concludes, “for different cultures to coexist.”
.. the far-right leader’s message is now woven into the school curriculum.
.. His party’s appointees or supporters dominate many artistic institutionsand universities. A growing number of plays and exhibitions have had nationalist or anti-Western undertones. Religious groups and nongovernment organizations critical of Fidesz have seen funding dry up.
.. For many far-right populists on both sides of the Atlantic, the Hungarian leader is revered.
“He’s a hero,” Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former strategist, said this month, while touring Europe. He described Mr. Orban as “the most significant guy on the scene right now.”
.. he met with Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist who created the Stanford Prison Experiment, the controversial 1971 study of authoritarianism, which explored how ordinary people would respond when placed in positions of power.
.. how Mr. Orban has attempted to influence the civil arena through like-minded culture warriors.
.. biggest beneficiaries tended to be groups with religious and nationalist
.. since an elected government represents the will of the people — and since civil society should strive to fulfill the people’s will — then civil society exists to carry out a ruling party’s manifesto, rather than to challenge it.
.. the government sent an opinion survey to every Hungarian household that claimed Mr. Soros was leading a project — named the Soros Plan — to force Hungary to admit thousands of migrants, dismantle its border fences, and in the process “diminish the importance of the language and culture of European countries.” It was demonstrably false.
.. During the 1980s, Mr. Orban was a young liberal activist who studied civil society at Oxford University
.. “I would like,” Mr. Illes recalled Mr. Orban telling him, “to destroy all NGOs in this country.”
.. “Most theaters,” she said, “have a socially unengaged message,”
.. “It’s important for us to emphasize our identity because we could lose it in a few moments,” Mr. Dorner said in an interview, citing anxiety about immigration by “the Africans, the Middle Easterners.”
.. the academy ignored and even condemned critics of Mr. Orban such as Gyorgy Konrad, a renowned author. Instead, it awarded monthly stipends in perpetuity to artists like Gyozo Somogyi, best known for depicting Hungarian military heroes
.. When the University of Debrecen awarded an honorary doctorate last August to Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president and an ally of Mr. Orban, four academic departments protested the decision.
.. Yet in response, the university leadership launched an investigation into their dissent.
.. Officially, the loss of each department’s financial autonomy has been presented as a cost-saving measure.
.. the real aim was to curb the academic autonomy of each department.
.. money was nevertheless found to sustain two entirely new academic institutions.
.. The first — Professor Patyi’s National University for Public Service — was set up to train civil servants, policemen and soldiers
.. The second, a think tank called Veritas, has a more demonstrably political aim. Its main mission is to provide revisionist interpretations of 20th-century Hungarian history — including the reign of Miklos Horthy, the autocrat who led Hungary before and during the Second World War.
.. He described the deportation of Jews under Horthy in 1941 as a mere “police action against aliens.”
.. the new preamble to the Hungarian Constitution — a controversial text which implies that Hungarian nationality is exclusively Christian, even though Hungary has a substantial Jewish minority.
Several men urged caution. But Viktor Orban, the prime minister-elect, disagreed. The voting result, Mr. Orban continued, had given him the right to carry out a radical overhaul of the country’s Constitution.
.. Nearly eight years later, Mr. Orban has remade Hungary’s political system into what one critic calls “a new thing under the sun.” Once praised by watchdog groups as a leading democracy of post-Soviet Eastern Europe, Hungary is now considered a democracy in sharp, worrisome decline.
.. Through legislative fiat and force of will, Mr. Orban has transformed the country into a political greenhouse for an odd kind of soft autocracy, combining crony capitalism and far-right rhetoric with a single-party political culture.
.. He is arguing that Europe’s postwar liberal consensus “is now at an end” — and his vision is being emulated in Poland
.. Mr. Orban is emblematic of a strongman age. He has courted President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and praised President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. In 2016, he became the first Western leader to endorse the Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump.
.. “Orban has pioneered a new model of single-party rule that has spread through Eastern Europe
.. defended Mr. Orban’s actions as a determined effort “to get rid of the remnants of communism that are still with us, not only in terms of institutions but in terms of mentality.”
.. Mr. Orban is undeniably popular with many Hungarians
.. he also has positioned himself as a buffer against what he portrays as modern-day threats: such as European Union bureaucrats; or George Soros, the liberal Hungarian-American philanthropist; or, above all, migrants who seek to settle in the country.
.. Migration fits into a wider agenda about the protection of the Hungarian people,” said Andras Biro-Nagy, a politics lecturer at Corvinus University of Budapest. “He’s protecting us from everything.”
.. Weeks later, Mr. Orban and his lieutenants began a legislative assault on the Hungarian Constitution, curbing civil society and, to less fanfare, diverting billions of euros in European Union and federal money toward loyal allies.
.. First, he moved simultaneously to curb the Hungarian media and the judiciary. Next came the erosion of the country’s checks and balances, which has helped Mr. Orban share the spoils of power with close friends and important businessmen.
.. And then, came the electoral process. The restructuring of Hungary’s election system, including a redrawing the electoral map
.. During the next five years, Fidesz used its two-thirds majority in Parliament to pass more than 1,000 laws, many of them enacted after a few hours of debate — and often presented by low-ranking lawmakers who had neither written nor read them.
.. The laws allowed Mr. Orban to appoint his own candidates to lead the country’s two main media regulators, while simultaneously giving those regulators more power to fine and punish independent news outlets. (Most of those outlets have subsequently been bought by allies of Mr. Orban.)
.. Mr. Orban put ex-Fidesz politicians in charge at several institutions, including the State Audit Office, which monitors government expenditures, and the State Prosecution Service, which oversees criminal prosecutions. His supporters also now control the board overseeing the National Fiscal Council, an independent body scrutinizing economic policy.
.. Yet it is Hungary’s judiciary that has perhaps been most affected.
.. Judges had to be nominated by a committee staffed by representatives of all the parties in Parliament — ensuring that all judges were chosen by consensus.
.. But Fidesz voted to give itself complete power in choosing the candidates. Eight years later, the court is made up entirely of judges appointed during Fidesz’s tenure.
.. Homelessness is once again a crime in Hungary.
.. “It’s not a totalitarian system,” Judge Szepeshazi said. “But it’s very autocratic.”
.. Mr. Orban has been able to accrue so much power in Budapest partly because he met little effective opposition from Brussels
.. The main problem was that the founders of the European Union never considered the possibility that a member state would backslide, and did not create procedures to deal conclusively with such an event, Ms. Reding said.
.. Mr. Orban has subsequently claimed to have tricked European officials into believing that he had made substantive changes, even though they were largely cosmetic, a tactic he has publicly described as the “dance of the peacock.”
.. Voting districts that had historically leaned to the left were reshaped to include around 5,000 more voters than districts that traditionally leaned right, according to an analysis by polling specialists at Political Capital, a Hungarian think tank. This meant that leftist parties needed more votes to win a seat than Fidesz did.
.. “All the characteristics and features on the surface are of democracy,” he added. “But behind it there is only one party and only one truth.”