Dayton, El Paso, Las Vegas, Parkland, Pittsburgh, Poway. These days, America is a coast-to-coast killing field. Our cold civil war grows bloodier by the moment. Understandably the public is scared. Its safety is at issue and we stand on a precipice.
For Donald Trump and the Republicans, the self-proclaimed law and order gang, that’s a problem. Crime helped cost the Democrats the White House in 1968, 1988 and 2016, and now crime may leave Trump as a one-term president.
To be sure, on Trump’s maiden political voyage, race-baiting worked. It won him screen time and votes. Trash a Latino federal judge? Who cares. Call Mexicans rapists? Why not? Joke about shootings? It’s fun.
What happens in Florida’s panhandle, was supposed to stay in the panhandle. Not anymore. That thing about walking down Fifth Avenue, committing murder and getting away with it is no longer a great pose.
What changed? Trump is an incumbent now and mass death ticks upward.
The cultural convergence that helped bring Trump to the White House could be leading him to an early departure. Each weekend has emerged as a prelude to another round of American carnage. Mondays are not supposed to be for mourning.
Meanwhile, another school year is upon us, a reminder to parents that their children will have to endure lock-down drills and the best President Trump can offer is excuses mumbled off of a teleprompter, thoughtless prayers. Trump and the Republicans appear helpless, hostages to the same demographics and special interests they courted and then rode to power.
Said differently, the Republican Party is no longer home to the universe inhabited by Prescott Bush, the patriarch of the Bush Clan and former senator. That world is gone even as its wealth and education attainment remain.
Greenwich, Connecticut and Rye, New York still abut Long Island Sound, but have become reliably Democratic. SMU’s soccer moms are going blue too.
Instead, the spirit of Tim McVeigh has crept into the GOP’s DNA. Twenty-five years ago, a Republican-led congress put an assault-weapons ban into law. Now conservative stalwarts argue that members of the “no-fly” list possess a Second Amendment right to open-carry.
So what if the 1995 Murrah Building bombing doomed Bob Dole’s ill-fated 1996 bid even before it started? History is built to be ignored.
Although the NRA is in disarray, Trump is wedded to the bitter end to the gun lobby’s most outrageous demands. Trump knows that without his base, reelection becomes impossible. Like it or not, guns were a key to Trump’s electoral college triumph. On Election Day the magic number was not 50%+1 but 270.
To top it off, the NRA was there for Trump during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight. The gun group proudly backed a “seven-figure” advertising campaign to give a leg up to the Yalie who loved beer. Expect the IOU to be called and it has, once again. Some debts can never be repaid.
Even as Trump yammers about video games and mental health, our very stable genius won’t dare to go near realistic proposals on background checks even if more than nine in 10 Americans favor them. Indeed, Trump actually weakened the very mechanisms that blocked the mentally ill from getting their hands on firearms—just because those restrictions had been put in place by Barack Obama in the aftermath of Sandy Hook.
Having staked their future on a volatile brew of race and resentment, the Republicans are witnessing crime again emerge as a campaign issue. This time, however, they are on the receiving end as the party in full control of the federal government’s levers of power and while appearing, as the Democrats have been portrayed in the past, as out of touch and ill-prepared.
Instead of facing Willie Horton’s mug shot like Mike Dukakis did more than three decades ago, Trump will be staring at endless loops of funeral footage, crime scene videos, and his own incendiary remarks. The dead are just that, neither gone nor forgotten.
Suburban flight from the GOP that marked the 2018 midterms is not disappearing, and Republican retirements from swing districts continue unabated. Already, nine House Republicans are passing on reelection bids. When Will Hurd, the lone African-American Republican congressman, says he’s had enough, it is time for Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, to really worry.
Right now, Trump is down by double-digits in suburbia. By the numbers, the Democrats hold 235 congressional seats, all located on but a fifth of the nation’s land mass. Likewise, Texas and Arizona “aren’t too many election cycles away from … voting bluer than Michigan and Wisconsin.” Already, Hurd will be joined by three other Texas Republicans who will not seek reelection. This is what “Texodus” looks like.
If Maryland’s Rep. Elijah Cummings is on the hook for Baltimore according to the president, then our latest wave of gun violence is definitely on Trump, the U.S.’s top cop and parole officer-in-chief. In that vein, Trump’s pardon of Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio grows uglier by the day, remaining nothing less than a tribute to cruelty and debasement simply because of the color of a man’s skin.
It is unclear that Trump is capable of a timely pivot. His words following the weekend’s shootings betrayed little self-awareness, lashing out at the media for a whirlwind that he recklessly sowed. Trump’s riff on Abraham Lincoln, proclaiming that “Open wounds cannot heal if we are divided,” and his condemnation of white supremacy seemed forced. Only a day later, the president was back to lashing out at his predecessors, and trumpeting that he was “the least racist person.”
Regardless, Pepe, Charlottesville, and racially-charged rhetoric are already part of Trump’s legacy. Whether he can offer some meaningful reassurance to voters is… doubtful. Regardless, if this spree of mass-shootings continues Trump and the Republicans will be facing a wall of turned backs on Election Day 2020.