Our final podcast of the Trump presidency is next term.
Well, first of all, yes, we'll meet back here in twenty twenty five. No, I'm kidding. Maybe I'm not.
Hello and welcome to the five thirty eight politics podcast, I'm dealing drugs. We were off for MLK Day yesterday. I hope everyone had a good, meaningful, long weekend. Today is the final full day of Donald Trump's presidency. It's also almost five years to the day that we began this podcast, January twenty second, two thousand sixteen. And during that time, we've covered two presidential elections, a midterm cycle, two impeachments and countless scandals. It's been a period of political news dominated by a single individual more than any time I can remember.
And tomorrow, his term ends. So today we're going to reflect on Trump's presidency, how he changed politics and what lasting effects he'll have to do that.
We're going to use the outline that Nate wrote back in twenty, seventeen, two weeks after Trump was inaugurated. It's called 14 versions of Trump's presidency, from hashtag Magga to impeachment. And it lays out the different paths. The last four years might have taken a long time. Listeners will remember that we've reflected on these paths a few times during Trump's time in office. So we'll look back at it now that it's all on the history books later in the show.
We're also going to broaden out beyond that outline and talk about Trump's legacy going forward.
And here with me to do that is editor in chief Nate Silver. Hey, Nate. Hey, Galen. Happy birthday.
By the way, you were off last week for a pretty significant week in the Trump presidency, but I hope you got some rest for your birthday.
It did not feel like I was off, but thank you. Also here with us is managing editor Michael Cohen. Hey, Mike. Hey, Gaylan, everybody.
And also here with us is our colleague from ABC News, White House correspondent Karen Travers. Hey, Karen. Hey, Glenn. Thanks for having me on. It's great to have you. Karen and I have talked plenty on ABC News Radio, although this is your first time on the podcast. So we really appreciate it. Thank you. And Perry is out today, so I am going to kick us off by just quickly reading the 14 papers that Nate laid out two weeks after Trump's inauguration in twenty seventeen.
And I'm curious to hear which are most reflective of what actually happened. And as I'm going, you guys can shout out and say, like, let's come back to that one, or definitely are not at all, and then we'll dig deeper into each of them. So the first category is called Group One, Extrapolations from the status quo. And the first one is Trump keeps on Trump and the country remains evenly divided to Trump gradually or not, so gradually enters a death spiral.
Three, Trump keeps rewriting the political rules and gradually becomes more popular. So each group won and that has to do with his approval rating. In general, Group two is Trump changes direction. So option for Trump mellows out slightly. Five Trump cedes authority. Six Trump successfully pivots to the populist center, but with plenty of authoritarianism to seven, Trump flails around aimlessly after an unsuccessful attempt to pivot. So that kind of had to do with policy.
Their Group three are the three horsemen of the presidential apocalypse, war, recession and scandal. So eight is Trump is consumed by scandal. That seems self-evident. Nine Trump is undermined by a failure to deliver jobs. Ted Trump's law and order agenda is bolstered by an international incident or terrorist attack. Then Group four is things fall apart and eleven is Trump plunges America into outright authoritarianism. Twelve resistance to Trump from elsewhere in the government undermines his authority but prompts a constitutional crisis.
And then the final group, Group five, is Trump Makes America Great again. So the two options here are 13. Trump becomes Governor Schwarzenegger 14. Trump's button mashing works because the system really is broken. So there's a lot there. Nate, kick us off reflecting on all of these 14 versions of what might have been. Which do you think is the most accurate now?
Well, given that we had 14 choices, you would hope that we had one that nailed it. And I don't think any of these did, frankly. You know, I mean, look, there are a few things that we can say. One is that I do think that if you look at the events that happened in twenty seventeen and the most significant things and they were significant things, they were Charlottesville's. Right. There was immigration policy, but things definitely did, I think, spiral more and more out of control in each year of the term.
When we wrote that piece, it was kind of about what will this do to Trump's approval rating? Kind of thinking more narrowly politically, but the fact that the Trump presidency ends with a covid pandemic that's killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and where our response has been among the worst in the world and with an insurrection at the capital, I mean, it certainly feels like things spiraled a bit. And, you know, he currently has like the highest disapproval rating of his presidency.
If you are looking at that narrowly politically. They lost this race in Georgia, which seems like ages ago, but was only two weeks ago. And so the spirals out of control theme seems important. And I think it's partly because after four years, the damage builds fewer and fewer. Frankly, sane and competent people are willing to work for Trump. There are fewer holdovers from the previous administrations. People grow fatigued. So that rings kind of true, I think.
And then kind of the ones about like the tension between plunging into authoritarianism, on the one hand, deep state resistance. On the other hand, I mean, this requires an assessment that I think is a little hard to make right now, which is how close do we get to things getting even worse? I think on the question of like the Capitol Hill. Mob things could very easily have been much worse where public officials were killed. Maybe minutes away from that happening, potentially how close to come to kind of successfully trying to steal an election?
I think it's a lot more ambiguous because people who are in a position of power and authority mostly avoided doing his bidding, in fact, almost uniformly avoided doing his bidding. But yeah, I mean, it feels like things were stretched to the brink here.
Yeah. Karen, weigh in here. You've been covering this White House now for four years.
Yeah, I like them. Before it was in group two, which was the headline Trump Mellows Out Slightly. And I think that's an interesting point to look at as we close out the Trump administration, because there was so much talk going into January 20th, 2017 that Washington would change Donald Trump, that he'd get here and realize that in order to get anything done, you have to work within the system. And he didn't know the system. He prided himself on being outside of the system and he wanted to blow up the system.
But the old people in Washington, experienced people who dismissed him during 2015 and 2016 were telling us, yeah, but he'll figure it out that, you know, if you want to get legislation passed, you got to do it this certain way. If you want to have media coverage, you got to do it a certain way. Donald Trump never did anything except the way he wanted to do it. His style never changed. And I think what was so interesting to see over four years was how Washington changed around Donald Trump that lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats adjusted to his style and his way of governing through tweets, through the Rapid Fire Q&A, as he would do, where he would announce policy in the middle of an answer to something and really be able to throw the shiny object over there and make everybody in Washington scramble.
So much of this presidency was defined by his personality and that he governed by personality, by sheer force sometimes. And I think that's interesting to think about the idea that maybe he could have changed, maybe he could have mellowed out if things weren't working to his benefit. He never did. There were so many times we would be told, well, this time he's learned his lesson and this time he'll change the way he said that. And this next press conference will be when he takes responsibility.
And, you know, here we are now two weeks after the insurrection at the Capitol, which he did not take responsibility for or show any remorse for. I think that's a clear sign right there. Underlined how he's not going to do it the way everybody's telling him it has to be done.
Maybe the pivot will come, you know, after he's done this presidency.
We've still got less than 24 hours for the pivot, the press conference he'll do on the way out the door where he says, you know, you're right, I should have done it this way and I really should have listened to my advisers. And that's an interesting thing, too, that the big theme over the last four years has been, you know, the number of people who would tell us, well, I told him we should do it like this and we advised him to do this, but he blew up the playbook.
He always did that. But I'm not sure how much of a playbook there actually was, because if you worked for Donald Trump, you went in knowing that handing him a playbook was not going to change his mind or change who he was.
So this gets at like a tension within these 14 paths that I'm curious to hear what you all think about. So in Group one, talking about the president's approval, mostly the politics, there are two possibilities that it describes. One is Trump keeps on Trump and the country remains evenly divided, or Trump, gradually or not so gradually enters a death spiral. Which of those two are more reflective of what actually happened? Because to your point, Karen, Trump just kept on trumping, but his approval rating didn't change all that much.
So while it may seem like the political establishment, the administration around him, the events that the country was experiencing were in kind of a death spiral, did the country just remain evenly divided this whole time?
Yeah, obviously, it's one of the things that rings a little truer. It's tricky. I think one thing that that piece doesn't appreciate enough, even though we often write about it elsewhere, is like the fact that you have these advanced the GOP, the Electoral College in the Senate to some extent with gerrymandering in the House. That's important here because like Trump is not very popular. He's not catastrophically unpopular, but it can be pretty unpopular and kind of the country isn't evenly divided.
More people are against Trump, but it winds up an electoral system producing Republican wins half the time or so. So it's an important distinction I would make. But yeah, obviously the thing that looms over everything here is the very high degree of partisanship, even something as extreme as Trump inciting an insurrection at the capital that does have an effect, but it shifts him from forty one percent to thirty seven or something. It's not enormous. So partisanship is the overlay to all of this and the fact that it took an insurrection at the capital.
To do that flight drop, the number of times over four years that we've all analyzed, like, well, this will be the thing that ends up dropping his approval rating even more. And this will be the thing that caused this massive exodus among his even diehard supporters or certainly Republicans on Capitol Hill. We never saw that. I mean, through controversy after controversy, it didn't happen until the final days of his presidency, even up until January 5th, all of the repeated conspiracies and baseless claims about a stolen election.
Republicans on Capitol Hill just kind of ignored it, if not agreeing with him. And he kept that hold on his base and his supporters January six, I think, changes everything. So you're going to talk about a death spiral. It wasn't gradual. It happened in the last 14 days. Yeah.
And even then. Right. Most Republicans on Capitol Hill stuck by him. Right. Still voted to object to the certification of the election results.
And Trump's approval rating has fallen, but it hasn't bottomed out in the way that Nixon did, for example. I mean, that that is a disconnect. A little bit of most of these are true, but there's a disconnect, which is, I think, what you were getting, I gather, in between I think the politics which are which are constrained by partisanship and the actual world, which in many ways the more extreme scenarios here where Trump does a ton of damage and which stuff I think would have been hard to imagine, at least specifically like an insurrection at the Capitol.
The more extreme scenarios in terms of the real world, I think happened. They just didn't produce the proportional response in terms of politics right now.
I do want to be a little careful because, like, the political system is still responsive enough that Trump was soundly defeated, but it's just not that responsive or as responsive as it used to be because of these kind of systemic structures that favor Trump and Republicans.
So does that get a path through which is Trump keeps rewriting the political rules and gradually becomes more popular? So, of course, he didn't gradually become more popular, but did he rewrite the political rules or is he sui generis? Like once Trump is out of office, the same rules apply. It's just that Trump was such an anomaly that he could act very, very differently from other presidents, but not end up with like a twenty five percent approval rating like Bush did at the end of his presidency.
And if you read this path in its piece, a lot of it gets that Overton window shifting, which is that like he shifts the Overton Window so much in his direction that things that might have seemed extreme once upon a time no longer seem extreme.
I don't think Trump rewrote rules, did he? What role did he rewrite? I think we learn things through the Trump era about the way politics works.
You know, I think in the Republican primary in 2016, for example, maybe we'll get into this more later.
But we learned or I learned that, oh, actually, fidelity to conservative policy doesn't matter much to most Republican voters. And and that racial animus, which we knew was an animating factor, was the much bigger animating factor in Republican primaries than in Republican politics.
And then I think we learned in during the Trump, his actual term in office, that racial animus, that part of things, plus partisanship is also more of an animating force than like fidelity to small D democratic values and to those kind of norms.
So, like, I think Trump more starkly revealed things that were already true, but I don't think he rewrote any rules, did he?
Yeah, I think maybe just for himself. I don't think for politics in general. I think one thing that's interesting is that you look at the background that Donald Trump came to Washington with. He was a real estate mogul. He was a this created personality, the TV personality that people came to know. And that is so unique from all the other people in Washington who are trying to be like Donald Trump. You know, we watched so many Republican lawmakers try to follow that Trump model and tweet something outrageous or give an insult.
Like remember Marco Rubio trying that during the Republican primary in twenty fifteen and it just doesn't work for anybody else. And once he leaves town, it's going to be interesting to see how many of them still tried to fashion themselves as the heir to the Trump supporters and the Magga legacy because they can't do it just like Donald Trump did it because of just who he was and how he created this personality cult of personality around himself. I think it's going to be interesting now to see who tries to out Trump Trump once he's gone.
And I don't think anybody can come close to doing that. So if he rewrote any rules, nobody is going to be able to stick to them or follow them. They were rules he made for himself. You know, he rewrote the playbook for himself when he came into Washington.
Yeah. And to add to that. We've seen both national polling and polling of Republicans in particular come out after January 6th on Josh Holly and Ted Cruz, and they're definitely not popular with Americans, but they're not even particularly popular with Republicans. And so, to your point, the people who have fashioned themselves a little bit as the heir to Trump supporters don't really seem to be all that popular because while they may have taken notes on the anti-democratic ways of Trump or the brashness, they aren't Donald Trump himself.
But I'm curious, how are you thinking about the extent to which Trump did or did not refashion the rules?
I think he tried it. And the rules proved pretty robust in terms of like he lost badly at the twenty eighteen midterms, added seats in the Senate. But the House was a pretty devastating result for Trump. And he lost reelection, which is unusual for an elected incumbent president to lose reelection. So there were prices to pay. Did Trump rewrite the rules of winning primaries? I think is a question one can ask. But given that Joe Biden four years later, in the next data that we have won in the primary, kind of a very traditional in some sense way where he built a coalition, got a lot of support from the party establishment, built momentum after Iowa, I guess I'm inclined to view Trump's nomination as.
Less of a fluke than I think I did four years ago, that the things he represents are more fundamental to the Republican Party than I thought at the time, including authoritarianism, including white supremacy, including violent traditions within populism. If you want to call it that, at the same time, if you look back on five years ago now, I guess Trump also fooled a lot of people into thinking he was kind of like a moderate Northeastern dealmaker that was brash and bold and little impulsive.
But they were people who said, we want to nominate Trump and not Ted Cruz because Ted Cruz is too conservative and will scare off independent voters. But they'll like Trump. I mean, that wasn't the only thing people were saying, but it was kind of complicated. And Trump his backers like an entertainer and stuff like that, too.
Are the political rules different for the two parties in the sense that Democrats do seem very focused on campaigning to the median voter and that's how they were successful. But President Trump was always focused on his base. He was focused on his base in the primary. He was focused on his base largely in the general election in 2016 and for most of his presidency. Can Democrats do the same and still win elections, or is this a rule that kind of applies more to Republicans?
I think it applies more to Republicans just because of the structural advantages they have.
I mean, a Republican has won the popular vote for the presidency, what, one time in the last 20 something years. So between the Electoral College and the Senate, there are structural forces that skew the popular will in the favor of the Republican Party, which is below the Republican Party, to win elections with minority support, with 45 percent of the vote or something like that.
Now, as we saw with Trump, they can't win it with 40 percent or closer to that. But I do think Democrats, just frankly, because voters are more inefficiently distributed throughout the country because of efforts by Republicans to suppress the vote, I don't think Democrats can do that base play as easily as Republicans can because of that difference.
Also, just like, look, the Republican Party has shown a nihilistic streak that we haven't seen from the Democratic Party yet. I'm not sure if given the opportunity, more Democrats would show that streak, but we've seen it concentrated predominantly on one party so far.
So it's two questions.
It's can you get away with, like, not playing by rule? And are you willing to not play by the rules?
Yeah, I mean, I still think that Trump wasn't served well by this instinct to always play to his base. I think there are many paths where Trump wins re-election, coming back to the past, even with the current pandemic and stuff like that. I think the fact that you could do OK with just your base, you can win certainly Senate seats and lots of red states, which are a lot of states you can keep your approval rating at 40 percent instead of falling to 20 or something.
The fact that you can kind of limp along and you have this high floor may have made it a more appealing prospect from the fact that, hey, you get all the base, plus just a little bit of the swing voters. If you don't lose independents by 17 points, going treated to Joe Biden in the exit poll, then you could have had a second term. So I think that Sync did not serve him well and I think was kind of like a Missler lesson in the GOP primary, where in a multi-way race than having 40 percent is huge.
In a two way race, 40 percent will, even with your Electoral College advantage, just get you kicked out of office.
This might answer some of that. Gaylan But to kind of bring it to the real world of what was happening at the White House, one of the biggest jokes in Washington, I mean, a lame joke, but was infrastructure week every week was going to be Infrastructure Week. And this is the week that they're going to talk about nuts and bolts things and getting dollars out to cities and states and, you know, hiring people to get to work. And it never happened.
But that became kind of emblematic of the larger, I think, a big failure of the Trump administration. The White House will say specifically the White House team, you know, the president himself wanted to win re-election by keeping every single vote from 2016 and figuring out a way to depress turnout on the other side or run against somebody like Bernie Sanders. And that would keep people home and that he just wanted to keep the same plan as 2016. And obviously, you can't do that with how things ended up in twenty twenty.
But if you look at what they did over the four years, there were so many missed opportunities where they would actually have something that they could tout. And there's this one example we would always come back to. There was a bill that had billions of dollars that Congress renewed the president sign that was going to give money to do job training programs. So, you know, if you were a carpenter, you could go and get some of these grant money and take some courses.
And learn a new skill set and Ivanka Trump was really heavily involved in this. She did a couple of events where she was touting this out on the road. She didn't invent the week before the president signed it with him. And he was kind of joking that maybe he would veto it, like kind of ribbing her a little bit. And she was like, he can veto this. We just worked so hard on this. He ended up signing it behind closed doors.
We didn't see it. There was no event. They didn't do any rollout for it. You know, a minor thing in the grand scheme of all of the controversy and chaos of the Trump administration. But that to us, right, there was an example of when they had something good to tout that maybe would have somebody out there, the suburban woman who was just like, I hate the tweets, I hate everything in the firings and all of this that gets a lot of mileage on local news, that gets mileage in the local papers.
And they never took advantage of some of the things that they could do like that that might have helped him expand just a little bit beyond that base. And some of that gets back to what I was saying earlier. You know, they would write a playbook for him and he would toss it instead. It just sort of forced us all to cover all of the controversy because that's what he was tweeting all day.
To what extent did he actually pass the policies that he talked so much about in twenty sixteen during his term? So Path seven is Trump fails around aimlessly after an unsuccessful attempt to pivot. Now, of course, he didn't attempt to pivot, but how much of his agenda did he actually achieve versus this kind of flailing around aimlessly that you described, like when it comes to the war, when it comes to immigration, when it comes to trade or offshoring, things like that, did he get accomplished on the things that he said he would in 2016?
I mean, the big items repealing and replacing Obamacare. No, Mexico paying for the wall. No, but, you know, the things that they will say are their biggest achievements, the tax cut bill, the tax bill in twenty seventeen, the trade deals that they did, the new NAFTA with Canada and Mexico and criminal justice reform. Those weren't the biggest things that he talked about on the campaign trail for sure. But those are the things that they could point to as successes.
But I think so many of the things that that you could say when there was a success in terms of some trade deals, he started a trade war with China, you know, and then there were all these other things that would happen that would negate or dilute what you could tout as an actual accomplishment. We've been working on so many of these legacy pieces over the past couple of weeks, and you go through your outline and you realize, wow, so much of this is controversy.
Let's get back into the actual stuff that was happening up on Capitol Hill. You had a Republican Congress for those first few years, and really, I think they didn't come away with enough that they can say we took a good advantage of having that Republican controlled White House and Senate and House and actually something to show for it.
From the political side of all of this, there's a lot of the like culture wars and campaigning constantly on Twitter and things like that that Trump did.
And then there's the actual policy. Nate and Micah Karen described a situation in which there were certain training programs that Trump could have talked about more.
Do Americans care a lot about the nuts and bolts of policy and jobs programs and things like that? Or are they more motivated by the culture wars?
I think it's the culture wars. I mean, I was just thinking about this of like, OK, what was the Trump administration most successful in doing? And like, OK, you could say remaking the federal judiciary. That was a big one. But maybe their biggest success, quote unquote, was, from their point of view, the mainstreaming of this white identity politics. Right. That's the biggest throughline in all of Trump's actions and statements and tweets and policies is this white grievance, white identity politics.
And and it's why the this storming of the Capitol felt so much like an inevitable culmination, as shocking as it was.
So the mainstreaming of that is maybe the most lasting legacy.
One, why do you call that a success? Well, because I think that's what they were trying to do. Perry wrote a piece for the site in twenty seventeen after Charlottesville that was about this white identity politics and the kind of putting these groups, white people, more religious people, people who historically have had every advantage in this country and trying to flip it and say, no, actually, this is now the marginalized part of America. These are the victims, I think understanding the Trump administration through that lens.
It's like the best unified theory of the Trump administration. If you were trying to make sense of like why is the Trump administration doing any particular thing on any particular day, although there's a lot of days where you're just like, I have no idea. But the best theory is I think this white supremacy, white identity politics that fits so much of what happened.
Yeah. I mean, and there is also some reporting that Trump we're watching the even. So in full then one sector sort of pleased with what he was saying, I mean, he they kind of did what he encouraged them to do. So why wouldn't he be pleased? I suppose? I mean, how much do you guys feel like that one six will be kind of very central to Trump's legacy because it's so recent. Is that dominating our thinking or will that be kind of one of the immediate things people always think of when they think about Trump?
I think it'll be one of the more immediate things, I think, because it's, you know, the final act on the way out the door. And that's what people remember. You know, it's hard to remember the 17th play of the second quarter, but everybody remembers dropping the ball in the end zone as the buzzer goes out, you know, so I think this is going to absolutely define so much of his presidency, if not his entire legacy.
And, you know, we look back at his inauguration speech in about the end of American carnage and just the striking bookend to how then the administration ends at the exact same location where he said those words to, you know, and I think as we get further away from it to, you know, even just day by day, we're learning so much more about what happened. And Americans minds are very memories are short lived. Every morning for ABC Radio, I talk to stations all across the country.
I spent three hours just talking to anchors and taking questions. And it's amazing how over the last four years, something that is a massive controversy on Monday is not even on the radar. By Wednesday, it's completely forgotten by Friday because we've already had 10 more controversies. But this one is going to stick. This is different because of the president's own role in what happened. Had he not done the rally, if people were just coming to Washington on their own, that's different.
But he was so intricately involved in what happened. It's also notable I will not take credit for thinking of this. A smart Republican I was talking to last week was saying, just imagine what could have been after November 3rd if the president just accepted the reality that he did not win the election, which had been clear to all of us and people around him and most of the country from November 4th on that. If you acknowledge that and moved on and tried to use that lame duck period to cram through some last minute things that he could do and tried to focus on a reflection back on the last four years now that would require him to be completely different than he had been in the previous four years.
But, you know, maybe they wouldn't have lost the Georgia Senate races. Maybe they could have kept the majority in the Senate. I mean, so many things would have been different had the president not chosen to take the plan, which he had been laying the breadcrumbs for for months leading up to November 3rd, that he was never going to accept the election results and would challenge it and and deny Joe Biden's legitimacy. But talk about a missed opportunity then that culminates in what happened on January six.
And I think for so many people, that bitter taste in their mouth, even people who voted for him, that's what's going to linger. And that's what people are going to remember.
Yeah, he could have gone off and said, well, you know, I came so close to winning again. It's all the fault of the China virus, not my term, obviously. And of course, they're really mildly complaining about of course, there's these voter suspicious, but I must accept the result. And if you kind of go out and probably at least to his base claim to have been a success. But again, I mean, look, Trump is not a great strategic mind.
A friend of mine calls it like a reptilian intelligence or like you kind of perceived threats and react to them. But there's no real long term strategy for how his life is going to be outside the White House. I mean, look, one of the things that's about like it's very difficult about processing, like the more recent events is on the one hand. Well, I think worse than we thought because that gets in a lot of questions about like kind of what do we think or what should we have?
Like, on the one hand, you have these very disturbing events that reveal that things like this are possible in the United States, which may be in my privilege or whatever. You don't think about it enough. On the other hand, the fact that they're associated with this guy who's a loser and the fact that they play out this way, I think the fact that the Capitol Hill riot occurs will make at the margin elected officials a little bit less likely to deny the reality of election results.
I think they'll still be plenty of it. But I think you now have a clear tie in the minds of the GOP to this can turn violent. So we'll still get lots of it. We might just have a tiny bit less than before.
So I think we can maybe put aside the final category in the paths that you laid out in it, which is the Trump becomes Governor Schwarzenegger or the button mashing works because the country really is broken. But the category right before that is that Trump plunges the country into outright authoritarianism and then pop 12, there's a constitutional crisis. So we talked a little bit about while he may have desired more authoritarian like outcome, that there were state level Republicans and even Republicans in Congress and Mike Pence himself who prevented that from happening.
The courts, of course, as well.
Ultimately. Did we end up facing a constitutional crisis during the Trump presidency? Does the second branch of government inciting an attack on the first branch count as a constitutional crisis?
It's not great that it's like it's a crisis is a constitutional.
Yeah, it's not like a question and that the Constitution can't resolve. It certainly felt like we had many crises during the Trump administration where it felt like there was no remedy to it. Julia Azari wrote a great piece for us.
That's like the different types of constitutional crises you can have. And one is like the Constitution just doesn't say what to do. And so there's a crisis of like we don't know how to handle this. Right. The other is that there is a constitutional remedy, but that there's not the political will to use it.
And that one, I think it felt like there were a lot of moments during the Trump administration where we had a constitutional crisis in that sense, that there was just not the political will to follow the Constitution. Like what's an example?
Trump openly tried to get a foreign nation to interfere in a US election. President Trump openly pressured and threatened a state official, Georgia, a church state official, to help him overturn a legitimate election.
And I'm not even getting into like the emolument stuff or the personal enrichment stuff or the corruption stuff, all of which is very serious and very well documented. But that's the conversation we should be having right aside and that we have had.
But like, what do you do when one party isn't acting in good faith?
And what happens and Trump and Trump ism are not very popular. They're not that unpopular, but they're certainly far, far from any type of majority view and like but in this case, the majority doesn't really have the sorts of power it might want to have. And that underscores a lot of this, I think I mean, certainly your opinion about how robust is like American constitutional democracy, certainly a period that has to have fallen over the past four years.
What happens in four years if you have a tempest as a Georgia secretary of state and Michigan doesn't certify the results, then you probably go to the court. I think it probably still ends up with a Biden presidency. But I don't know. Karen, you're there, though. What do you think of this?
I think one thing you would hear from Republicans who were very concerned about plunging into a constitutional crisis was kind of a bit of a gallows humor that if they were better at this, then maybe we would have fallen off that cliff, but that the Trump administration, the president, as Nate was saying, not a great strategist when it comes to some of this, the politics and the people around him fumbling on some of the big things. I mean, remember, one of the first big controversies of the Trump administration was the Muslim ban and how badly they ruled that out, that they kept having to go back and tweak it to get it to be where they wanted it to be and actually be allowed to move forward.
And so much of that was because they just rushed it together that day, not talking to agencies as to how they figured out to actually implement what they were about to do. And that right there was I think you take that on smaller and bigger scales over the course of four years where so many things that they did that were troubling to Republicans, that were worrisome. On the constitutional question to Democrats, the reaction we would get from talking to people was, well, thank goodness they don't know what they're doing because this would be way worse if they came in very skilled at this and had a very detailed plan to push the country toward that.
So, you know, there but the grace of God, I guess.
Interesting. I think I've heard that kind of gallows humor a lot, which is that like if you had somebody with authoritarian tendencies who was less inept, like they actually could have succeeded. And so I guess that's something to keep in mind going forward as we cover politics. I want to get off these 14 paths and just broaden the conversation a little bit to what Trump's lasting legacy will be. But first, today's podcast is brought to you by upstart. Last year showed us that you never know what life is going to throw at you.
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So setting aside these 14 pounds, because back in January 2017, there were a lot of things that Nate could not have predicted, the covid-19 pandemic and other aspects of Trump's presidency, and now that all but one day of it is behind us, I just want to ask broadly what you believe Trump's legacy will be going forward, how that impacts the Republican Party, our politics more broadly, our history books. Karen, let's begin with you. What is Trump's legacy?
You know, I think we talked about this earlier of are we thinking of it too much as to what just immediately happened? But I think the covid pandemic and the push to overturn the election results will be the two things that define the Trump presidency, because underneath that, you can get at every other aspect of how he governed, what they decided to do, his personality in office, the covid pandemic, the failure of the president to acknowledge the seriousness of it, to flat out lie to the American people and downplay how bad it was and what would happen, you know, which we heard later in audio where he did an interview with Bob Woodward and admitting why he was doing that just does not scare people that he had to be positive.
I think that will be very telling about his approach to so many issues over the course of four years. And then I think the fact of not conceding the election, not just not conceding, but pushing to overturn the results by pushing just baseless claims, flat out falsehoods that were based in dark corners of the Internet, but then went mainstream through his pushing of them and him getting his tens of millions of supporters to believe it, which you see in the polls.
And how many people don't believe Joe Biden is the legitimate president? I think those two big crises and what the president did to light the fire and fuel the flames for both of them, I think would be the defining thing that will look back at you. Just want to throw out words to define the legacy. I think it will be divisive, unconventional, chaotic. But his supporters stayed with him through all of that. And that's also an incredible legacy, he likes to say, and more than 70 million votes.
And that is nothing to scoff at despite everything we've laid out of what happened over the last four years. He did get that number and people are sticking by him.
I would point to a few things. And I think part of what I've been wrestling with is like on all these things, Trump is both a symptom and a cause and an accelerant. But one legacy, I think, will just be the lying, as Karen was saying from the start of his campaign to his last day in office on Wednesday, the amount of lying was stunning and it was one of the most consistent, unending features of Trump's presidency.
Then also some combination of like the exposure of how fragile our democracy was.
So that's that's like more symptom. And he just exposed it. But then also he helped made it more fragile by upending these norms and chipping away at democracy.
And then going back to what we were talking about earlier. For some people, exposure and then the mainstreaming of this white grievance, white supremacy, white identity politics, right wing extremism. I think those three things are really what I point to, I think.
But the presidency is just ending. So it's it's kind of hard to say.
So if you consider that a legacy from the Republican Party and you're thinking about Trump's legacy going forward and how it applies to the Republican Party, you see that Trump won seventy four million votes. He had incredible turnout for Republicans. Do you say like, let's pick and choose what we want from there? Also on top of that, you saw that he won the most diverse coalition for Republicans, including voters of color in his coalition in decades. And so do you look at that and say there's certain things that Trump did that we need to replicate going forward?
Or do you look at that and say, like we really need to tabula rasa to start over with something completely new?
I mean, I put it this way. I don't think if you talk to the very concerned Republicans from their point of view, the parts of the Trump presidency that they hated the most, I tend to think those are not incidental to the benefits, again, from their point of view of Trump. So Trump's strongman tendencies, his racist rhetoric, I don't think you can view those things as just like incidental to the fervor of his following.
And support, right, I think those two things are connected, so I'm not so sure if you're a Republican politician who wants to move on from Trump, that you're going to have a super easy time getting a scalpel and kind of carving out the parts of of the Trump legacy that you don't like. I think it's all one big interconnected thing.
Yeah, that's why I do get an interesting lot about like. Yeah. What if Trump were slightly more competent or might we be talking about that here? But like, I think you can't just change one part without changing the whole. It's like the what I call the what a Steph Curry were six feet nine argument. Right. He'd be a very different player and maybe less skilled and certain important ways. And in any event, he's already kind of like a genetic five sigma freak with his talent and his work ethic and whatever else.
And so, you know, most people don't ever become president. And I think Trump imitators may wind up with the bad parts of Trump, like the more open racism, for example, but not like the talent. It feels weird to use that word. But like Trump has a certain type of talent. Trump is, among other things, entertaining. Josh Hawley is not Tom Cotton certainly is not. I don't think you're going to travel from outside state lines to hear those guys give a one hour speech, which may or may not matter in the end.
But like one question is, what does like a Mitt Romney or Lisa Murkowski kind of do? I mean, Lisa Murkowski at one point talked about leaving the Republican Party, but then made clear that would mean she would become a Democrat. I'm not quite sure what that means exactly. But like, do we see some type of capital C Conservative Party form in the US? Do we see more people running as independents? Those seem like salient questions that will sort out and will be important in twenty twenty two.
I think Twitter did Republicans a big, big favor in the last couple of days by banning the president from social media, their platform, because when he left Washington. So let's just go back to like a January fourth world where the idea of President Trump moving to Florida, toying with the idea of running for re-election, keeping all of the Republican hopefuls, the contenders for twenty twenty four, essentially held hostage as he considered running, even if he never does.
But just teasing that for two plus years and doing that on Twitter and sending little jabs at Josh Hawley and jabs at Ted Cruz, maybe even Mike Pence, too. But he can't do that now. And, you know, the thing that Republicans hated so much over the last four years was being accosted in the hallway up at the Capitol and being asked, you know, did you see the tweet? What is your reaction to the tweet? And they just tried to figure out how to ignore it, to pretend they never read the tweet or try not to comment on it.
It's going to be a lot easier for them to have that albatross of Trump Twitter taken off their necks because his ability to lob grenades from Mar a Lago and play around in Puppetmaster a bit with the Republican lawmakers and presidential contenders is now severely limited. You know, he's going to have to have an event to do that. He's going to have to issue a statement over email, which, my God, that's so boring. That's not Donald Trump.
And so I think Twitter helped them all out a big deal because they can say we're moving on and we don't have to look around that like the monster is coming back, you know, around the corner. He's gone. He's not going to be tweeting. So it's a good thing for Republicans.
I think you're right, Carol, because, like, I was listening to somebody make this point somewhere else. So it's not my my point.
But after the 2012 election, remember, there was like when Romney lost. So it's like this Republican autopsy and there was all this kind of self reflection about what do we need to change as a party to win elections?
Again, none of that actually happened, like none of the steps recommended in that brief actually were taken, I don't think or not meaningfully.
I think part of the party took them seriously, but there were just enough people and enough very enthusiastic campaigners that to the people who show up in primaries, like, I don't think they really cared about the autopsy. Fair enough. Fair enough.
But you don't see any self reflection right now, do you? Yeah, you do wear like it's mostly people who want to enhance their careers, post Trump like maybe worked in a Trump presidency and are and are now talking about. How they see the GOP charting a path forward like our Sapphira and people like that doing that kind of self reflection, it may be self serving self reflection, but I think there are Republicans talking about what we need to do going forward.
Yeah, I'm talking about like party apparatus, parts of the party officially being like, what do we do here? And I don't think there's that.
Yeah, maybe it'll happen. And I'd be surprised. Right.
Like the RNC just re-elected Ronna McDaniel, right?
Yeah, but keeping on the same page, like you said, Galen, you know about the diverse coalition that Trump put together. Another point of like imagine if you talked about that for the last two months instead of talking about his conspiracy theories, imagine if he was highlighting the gains they made among certain voting groups and to use that to propel them forward to twenty, twenty four. That would help the Republican Party, but that doesn't help Donald Trump.
So that's why we don't see him saying that this is maybe a little bit of a pivot from where we've been. But I think it's really important in thinking about Donald Trump's impact on our politics and where we go from here is tomorrow Joe Biden will take office. And while Trump certainly reshaped the Republican Party, he reshaped the Democratic Party to just very much in the reactions to him as a person in the kinds of policies he enacted. I mean, just one polling example, as you see, that once Donald Trump entered the public sphere, started running for office, Democrats views on immigration changed dramatically.
So they were much more in favor of immigration, much more likely to say that immigrants helped the country than they were before Trump became a political figure. What are the other ways that Trump has shaped the Democratic Party during the past four or five years?
I think he's made it more of the party of professionals. Certainly much of the white working class and maybe at the margins still overwhelmingly party of the black and Hispanic and Asian working class, but maybe a bit less than at least four years ago. You know, we talked about the biggest kind of demographic shift in the Trump era is much higher correlation between education levels and party affiliation, which is also related to urbanization. Wealthy, well-educated people in cities are much more likely to be democratic than they were eight years ago.
Rural white people are much less likely to be. And this keeps getting more extreme in every election. And that has lots of consequences for what the Democratic agenda is. I mean, in some ways, Democrats come out of 20 to 20 looking fairly good. They had this relatively smooth nomination process. Once it was all said and done work, Joe Biden wound up winning by a pretty comfortable margin and he went on to win the presidency and they went on to just barely capture the Senate.
So even though they lost seats in the House, the margins weren't as big as people thought. Somehow, I think the events of the past few weeks, I don't think any longer looks like a Democratic nearly came up short. They underperformed the point spread, right? I mean, and now kind of feels like just barely. But they kind of held them together in historically challenging times. And maybe you shouldn't take very much of that for granted. Obviously, with the wins in Georgia, it's a lot easier to put an optimistic spin on how the Democrat Party did in twenty twenty, but which is very meaningful.
I think one maybe simplistic way that Donald Trump shaped the Democratic Party is that he gave them Donald Trump to rally around and that kept the party together because they had this one thing that they all agreed on, because there are a lot of things that Democrats do not agree on and some of those big, big differences between Alexandria, Cosio, Cortez and her wing of the party and moderate wing. And you can paper over a lot of that because you have to focus on getting Donald Trump out of office and winning in twenty twenty and trying to expand the majority, which, of course, we did not see happen.
And I think when you take Donald Trump out of the equation, some of those issues that have been bubbling below the surface for Democrats on Capitol Hill, I'm talking specifically about, you know, the lawmakers here that have been just pushed aside. They're going to come roaring back and they could potentially bubble over. And Nancy Pelosi has a very small majority right now. You, of course, have the 50 50 split in the Senate once the two Georgia senators are seated.
So it's going to be tight. You know, you can't start angering even small factions of your caucus right now or else you're not going to get anything done. And they have to figure out how to thread those needles. And when you don't have Donald Trump as your boogeyman to blame everything on, you got to work harder then to keep everything together on your own team.
Yeah, I think that's a really good point, because I think one way in which Trump changed the Democratic Party is he, I think for a lot of Democrats, lowered their tolerance for political caution.
And I think you heard it during the Trump era.
A lot of Democrats say we can't be timid anymore. Right.
Democrats often criticize their own party for like being bad at politics, not being more trump, you know, like not being more Trump in or just like not being as ruthless as the Republican Party.
That's like a self flattering critique in some way. Right. If you're a Democrat. But I do think you saw in a lot of parts of the party more boldness during the Trump era.
To Karen's point, though, not in all parts of the party.
And now they're going to have a moment where they have to kind of square that circle.
So we've been talking over the past five years and over the past 10 years, kind of five years. Beyond that, we've seen very similar trends, the ones that they just described, which is professional white voters of color and then rural whites, not college educated whites. Those two groups like separating off and creating different coalitions that have reshaped the suburbs and reshaped the cities and rural areas and reshaped the parties as a result. Do you think we're at the apex point of that trend or do you think that that is something that just continues on from here?
I guess I put in my my usual vote for mean reversion in the long run, and we did have some mean reversion among non-white voters. Mm hmm. You know, I think Democrats might be concerned about that. Again, in the Georgia runoffs, they got both very good turnout and very high vote shares from non-white voters in Georgia. So maybe there are people of all races who will turn out for Trump because he's a phenomenon that won't turn out for ordinary Republican in the midterms.
I mean, look, I think one thing, too, is one effective January 6th is that it's going to make I think. Democrats and a lot of independents very scared of Republican rule for a long period of time, and fear is often a motivator to get people to vote. And if on the right wing you kind of see people downplaying the significance of of January six and downplaying the significance of Trump's, you know, claims about election fraud. I don't know, I mean, you saw the midterm, right?
I can see the Trump presidency having. Semi-permanent effects of making Democratic turnout and political participation, whereas it may be more of a mixed bag for Republican participation if Trump himself is on the ballot.
I'll say this to disagree with it's going to going to go with me and revision. I will guess that the trend continues and that we see we see the education split becoming even more pronounced.
But that's just a guess.
As I said, my take would be that the suburban parts of the country remain pretty politically competitive and that it seems quite likely that, quote unquote, accessors of the Democratic Party could push those voters back towards the Republican Party. So I guess I might also be on in the mean reversion crowd. Also, people keep saying that voters have short memories. I don't know if that's just like a saying now or if it's actually true. But I wonder after January 6th, like how short term are voters memories?
I guess that's to be determined unless either of you have thoughts.
I mean, I do think that like The Wall Street Journal NBC poll asked people, how do you rate one six and the kind of historical legacy, where does it rank? And is it like an all time historic event for the United States? Is it pretty important, but not super important? Is it not that important? They also ask that question after September 11th and after kind of the start of the coronavirus pandemic, so to speak, in March, although it really started last December, and people rate it as being much less significant in those events.
And that might separate out the kind of political class from regular people on the street. Like, you know, I walked around. New York City abounds, trying to collect my thoughts on January six, and they weren't like they weren't like a ton of people like talking on the street about it. There were some. But it wasn't like September 11th when, like, everyone was only thinking about that. I think it's partly because, like, part of a story of one six is what almost happened, but didn't happen if Mike Pence or other elected officials have been harmed or killed.
Then I think every American would think this is a 9/11 style event and we as journalists treat other reporters and we know how close that could have been to happening, but we narrowly avoided a much bigger disaster. So I don't know. All right. Well, let's leave things there. Our final podcast of the Trump presidency, the first time you still got, well, first term of the Trump presidency. Yes.
We'll meet back here in twenty twenty five. No, I'm kidding. Maybe I'm not. But anyway, the next time you will hear from us will be tomorrow after inauguration. We'll have a reaction podcast. We'll also have a live blog on 538 dotcom. But that's it for now. So thank you, Mike and Karen. Thank you. My name is Galen Droog. Tony Chow is in the virtual control room. Claire Bennett, Gary Curtis is on audio editing.
You can get in touch by e-mailing us at podcasts at 538 dotcom. You can also, of course, tweeted us with any questions or comments. If you're a fan of the show, give us a rating or review in the Apple podcast store or tell someone about us. Thanks for listening and we'll see you soon.