What if a Sane Republican Could Deliver Trump’s Message?

By Bradley Tusk  |  August 30, 2016

It’s close to a foregone conclusion that the voters have realized that Donald Trump is unfit to serve as President. And while the final popular vote may still be within 5–7 points, the electoral college will likely be a landslide. But no matter how well Hillary Clinton does in her first term, it’s almost a lock she’ll face a tough re-elect in 2020. The world is just too screwed up and the President’s powers are just too limited to deliver any real change in just a few years, so the voters will be as frustrated as ever when she faces them again (George W. Bush and Barack Obama faced the same in their re-elections and while both won, they also both could have lost).

While Trump has managed, in some ways, to be the worst major party nominee since McGovern, he’s also hit upon something that no other Republican realized or could execute, and that something will alter the nature of national elections for years to come — what divides us now are not social issues like abortion or the death penalty, not ideological issues like crime or the threat of Communism, but the basic economic divide and insecurity that the middle of the economy and the middle of the country confronts every day. Those are the voters who propelled Trump to victory in the primary.

If a sane, competent Republican can find a way to capture the same message and resonate with those same voters without turning off everyone else, that candidate can win in 2020 (given Hillary’s negatives, that candidate could have won this year). Some of Trump’s bombast is probably necessary to capture those voters — but you could be anti-immigration or anti-free trade without also being racist, sexist and generally hateful. You can recognize and reflect people’s fear of an insecure future without then threatening to make it worse by cozying up to Putin or abandoning NATO.

Ideally, that candidate could even be progressive in some ways — a libertarian on issues like gay rights, choice, drugs even while still arguing that globalization is just another way to say “getting jobs for people from India instead of Indiana.” In other words, a Republican Bernie Sanders who looks a little more like Rick Perry and a little less like Larry David. Does that mythical candidate exist? And if she or he does, can they get past roadblocks like Ted Cruz? Anyone who says they know either correctly predicted Trump’s rise this year or is about to ask you for a consulting fee.

But Trump, for all of his inanity and demagoguery, may have laid the groundwork for a new national political realignment. And the first sane Republican to capitalize on that may have a new title come 2021: President.