There is no denying that now-former President Donald Trump is at least partially responsible for the deep political divide in our nation, but the truth is that it didn’t begin with him any more than President Joe Biden is likely to bring unity. The differences on key issues are simply too great, and despite calls for unity neither side really has shown any willingness to compromise.
One thing is clear, however, had Donald Trump run as a Democrat he would have been treated quite differently. Such a shift in parties might seem unlikely, but it should be remembered that Trump was a longtime Democrat who switched parties, and he has been seen primarily as a populist and nationalist, trends also present among many Progressive Democrats and moderates.
In a 2004 interview with CNN, Trump even said that he identified more as a Democrat and that the economy often does better under Democrats.
What Might Have Been
Let us assume that in 2014 former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decided not to run for President. Perhaps it was an illness, perhaps she just saw the tea leaves, perhaps the investigation over the use of a private server came out earlier – the point is in a world where Clinton didn’t run, Trump may have opted to Make America Great again as a Democrat.
Firstly, the Republican field was so massive that debates amongst the candidates required the field be broken into two during debates. While we know Trump was able to use this to his advantage there was no guarantee that another frontrunner might have connected with voters. But then there is the fact that everyone expected Clinton to get the nomination from the second she “explored” running for president.
It is true that Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders battled throughout the primaries for the nomination, and while it is impossible to know who might else could have run for the nomination knowing Hillary was out, a centrist Trump would have had a fighting chance of beating Senator Sanders. His message of “drain the swamp” and suggestions that Jeb Bush was just part of an out-of-touch political dynasty may have resonated with Democrat voters as much as it did with the blue-collar Republicans. The endorsements from Vice President Biden, the Clintons, and others may have removed doubt as to whether Trump was up for the job.
The mainstream media would certainly have played up the fact that Trump was not only a successful businessman but was among the greatest reality TV stars in history. He was tough but fair, they would have said, someone who went on Saturday Night Live and was able to poke fun at himself.
Concerns that he had some questionable connections wouldn’t have been so much dismissed as “spun” - there was a guy that could take on Putin. Democrat Trump was a billionaire who was also willing to work for the common man.
When Melania Trump toured Africa wearing a safari outfit with sun/pith helmet she’d be praised for evoking the look of Meryl Streep in Out of Africa, not for wearing a symbol of imperialism.
If there had even been a shutdown of the government, Trump would have been praised for feeding the national college football champions from the Clemson Tigers food from McDonald’s and Wendy’s. How in touch with the youth he was.
And while perhaps some of his tweets may have still been called out, Trump would have been praised for his use of social media data from Cambridge Analytica, and his ability to go off-script to deliver a message. Far from scandals, this appealed to his populist base.
If this sounds unlikely, consider that President Barack Obama was praised for his use of social media, and in our real 2020 election then-candidate, Biden successfully connected with young voters via Twitter. These are just recent examples that when it is done by a liberal it is classy and in touch, when done by a Republican it is trashy and manipulative.
There is no denying that Senator Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi would have difficult moments with Trump, but can anyone believe it has been easy for Senator Mitch McConnell?
Yet, instead of tearing up a copy of the State of Union, Pelosi would have stood and smiled.
Without control of the House of Representatives, any talk of impeachment would have gone out of the window.
Sure it is easy to see that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Squad could never get behind a President Trump, but they were largely elected as part of a liberal reactionary movement. With Democrat Trump in the White House, perhaps AOC wouldn’t have surprisingly defeated Rep. Joe Crowley, the Democratic Caucus Chair, in the primary.