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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Former President Donald J. Trump

Many Democrats are leery about the party's ability to retain control of Congress in 2022. The president's party normally loses ground in mid-term elections, and Democrats have little margin for error. Lose a half-dozen House seats and the Biden administration will find itself stymied; lose the Senate, and total paralysis would set in: zombie government personified by Sen. Mitch McConnell.

It's been reported that President Biden believes that when people understand all that Democrats have done for them—bringing the Covid pandemic under control, restoring the U.S. economy, bringing unemployment down, passing long-delayed, badly-needed infrastructure repair—things will take care of themselves at the polls.

With all respect, if Biden thinks that, he's dreaming.

What got Biden elected, what drove the voter turnout that won him an extraordinary 81 million votes, was the majority's revulsion and fear regarding Donald Trump. If Democrats want to prevail in 2022, good government won't be enough. They need to turn the mid-term elections into a referendum on the Trump cult and GOP sycophancy toward his alarming assault on democracy.

"Here in the US, there's a growing recognition that this is a bit like WWF—that it's entertaining, but it's not real," Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) said recently. "I think people recognize it's a lot of show and bombast, but it's going nowhere. The election is over. It was fair."

Would that it were so.

Anyway, only a bit like the World Wrestling Federation? Not for nothing is Trump a member of the pro-wrestling Hall of Fame. As I pointed out in 2016, he basically stole his whole act from Dr. Jerry Graham, the bleach-blonde super-villain of 1950s TV rasslin' at Sunnyside Gardens in Trump's native Queens. The swaggering, the boasting, the pompadour hairdo — "I have the body that men fear and women adore," Graham used to say — it's all the same.

Asked the subject of Graham's doctorate, his manager once confided, "He's a tree surgeon." Smashing rivals with balsa wood chairs, bleeding copiously from chicken blood capsules, the Graham Brothers drew 20,000 fans to grudge matches in Madison Square Garden. Riots broke out among those naïve enough to believe the mayhem was real.

But few confused pro-wrestling with a real sport. In the eighth grade, I thought it was the funniest thing on TV. Trump appears to have drawn a different lesson: the bigger the lie and the more flamboyant the liar, the more some people will believe it. Hence his "Stop the Steal" rallies in the summer of 2021. And, yes, most of the costumed bumpkins in the red MAGA hats believe Trump's preposterous falsehoods about his landslide victory.

He's turning the GOP into an anti-democratic cult of personality. Precious few Republicans have the political courage of a Mitt Romney, a Rep Liz Cheney (R-WY), or a Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). Trump's doing his best to purge any Republican who's ever crossed him. This is providing Democrats with a political opportunity not to be missed

Polls show that upwards of half of GOP voters believe that "audits" like the farcical spectacle under way in Arizona will reverse the 2020 election; fully three in ten expect that Trump will somehow be "reinstated" as president this summer. It's beginning to appear that the Big Man with the bouffant and the diseased ego may actually believe this fantasy too.

Two thoughts: America being America, some form of ritual violence will almost surely result. Something like January 6, except with guns. Second, three in ten Republicans amounts to maybe ten percent, give or take, of the national electorate. (The party's been shrinking since Trump took over.) That's roughly the same proportion that pollsters say subscribes to the QAnon delusion that Satan-worshipping pedophiles control the Democratic Party.

No doubt there's significant overlap.

So they say they want a culture war? Democrats should give them one. Have you noticed that for all the determination of Georgia Republicans to suppress voter turnout, nobody has seriously challenged the accuracy of that state's two 2020 US Senate races?

That's because once the Big Loser and his surrogate candidates turned the runoff into a referendum on Trumpism, Democrats and Independents turned out in record numbers to defeat them. Fear and anger drove them.

If that can happen in a Deep South state like Georgia, what's apt to happen in swing districts across the country? So run on good government bread and butter issues, by all means. Remind people of the good things the Biden administration has done for them.

But also nationalize the election: blanket the airwaves with TV ads showing before and after footage of GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Mitch McConnell first condemning then making weasel-worded alibis for Trump's role in the January 6 insurrection. Tie bizarre figures like Marjory Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Matt Gaetz around their necks like anvils.

Give voters a clear choice: Trumpism, or democracy?

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Sen. Bernie Sanders, left, and President Joe Biden during 2020 presidential debate

I look at September 2019 as a month where I missed something. We began with a trip to New York to do Seth Meyers’s and Dr. Oz’s shows. Why would we go on The Dr. Oz Show? For the same reason we had gone on Joe Rogan’s podcast in August: We could reach a vast audience that wasn’t paying attention to the standard political media. On Dr. Oz, Bernie could talk about Medicare for All and his own physical fitness. While at the time we believed Bernie was uncommonly healthy for his age, he was still 78. Questions would be raised related to his age, and we needed to begin building up the case that he was completely healthy and fit. It turned out to be a spectacular interview, ending with the two of them playing basketball on a makeshift court in the studio. Bernie appeared to be on top of the world.

Yet in retrospect, I should have seen Bernie growing more fatigued. After New York, with the school year starting, we did a series of rallies at colleges and universities in Iowa; this was the kickoff of our campus organizing program in the state. We would then fly to Colorado for a large rally in Denver before heading to Boulder to prep for the third debate, to take place in Houston on September 12. In Iowa, Bernie’s voice was a little hoarse. After the rally in Denver, he had completely blown it out. He sounded terrible.

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Rep. James Clyburn

When I interviewed House Majority Whip James Clyburn in 2014 about his memoir Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black, the South Carolina Democrat was confident in America’s ability to find its way, no matter how extreme the political swings might appear at any given time.

“The country from its inception is like the pendulum on a clock,” the congressman told me. “It goes back and forward. It tops out to the right and starts back to the left — it tops out to the left and starts back to the right.” And remember, he said, it “spends twice as much time in the center.”

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