Yesterday, President Trump held five rallies in five different states, barnstorming through Michigan, Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. On Saturday, he did four rallies in Pennsylvania alone, including one that drew 57,000 people to the small town of Butler about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh.
All Trump rallies are celebratory affairs, but these seemed even more so. Trump himself was in a jaunty mood, doing a little dance to “Y.M.C.A.” on a freezing stage in Michigan, laughing along with the crowd at Biden memes, and generally hamming it up for his supporters, who came out in droves.
For weeks now, the mainstream media have been telling us how Trump’s flurry of eleventh-hour campaigning is a sign of desperation, but as usual they miss the mark. What these rallies really show is that win or lose, Trump isn’t going away after this election. He’s the most popular Republican in the country by far—and will remain so, no matter what happens on Tuesday.
Butler County, PA.
I’ve never seen anything like it — just a sea of people. pic.twitter.com/VYImRB710v
— #ThePersistence (@ScottPresler) November 1, 2020
If Twitter blue checks weren’t so busy denouncing Trump rallies as COVID-19 superspreader events or “the stuff of Nazi rallies,” as one Vox blogger put it, they might notice how these events are more than just campaign rallies; they’re manifestations of a fundamental shift that’s taken place in American political life.
The enthusiasm Trump inspires among his supporters is new in the modern era. Obama might have moved a bunch of Hollywood celebrities to make that embarrassing “Yes We Can” video in 2008 and that hagiographic biopic “Barry” in 2016, but he never inspired the kind of organic manifestations of Trump support we’ve seen from ordinary Americans: boat and ATV parades, massive highway caravans, homemade Trump flags, signs, tambourines, and all manner of Trump Americana cropping up at makeshift roadside stands.
Over the weekend, while Trump was staging his whirlwind of closeout rallies, caravans for Trump, most of them organized by local people with no connection to the Trump campaign, once again appeared all over the country from San Diego to New Jersey.
This isn’t the kind of thing that will simply dissipate if Trump loses to Joe Biden. Even out of power, he will command the loyalty of a large enough swath of voters so as to control the Republican Party, informally. The free-wheeling interview Trump did with Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports back in July was a preview of the Trump presence we’re likely to see if he’s ousted from the White House: a chatty ex-president celebrity with his own cable channel, broadcasting directly to his fervent base of supporters. You might hear more from Trump, not less, if he loses.
As for party politics, the mainstream pundits prognosticating about who’ll emerge to lead the GOP in the event of a Trump loss don’t seem to realize that it will be Trump himself. Imagine their surprise when a defeated Trump comes back to run for the Republican nomination in 2024, and wins it. (He’d be as old as Biden is now.)
The larger point here is that American politics changed permanently in 2016, and there’s no getting out of it with a Biden win. We’re in a populist era now, and we will be for the foreseeable future, even without Trump in the White House.
That’s because Trump is not the cause of the change, he is just a powerful manifestation of it. The cause of the change was the wholesale failure of our elites and the collapse of public trust in our elite-run institutions. Trump called out those failures in a way no one had done before, and it resonated with many Americans who had become so disgusted with our politics they had given up, tuned it out, stopped voting.
Future Trump-like candidates, whether Republican or Democrat, who can convince voters they aren’t in thrall to special interests and aren’t controlled by the establishment, will command the loyalty of enough voters to reshape national elections. Think Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the left and Sen. Josh Hawley or South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on the right. One thing is for sure: for the GOP, it won’t be the likes of Sen. Ben Sasse or Nikki Haley. That brand of politician will be powerless to influence the Republican Party moving forward, even if Trump loses.
The fact is, a Trump loss this cycle means Trump will instantly become the leading candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination. And if you don’t believe that, you haven’t been to a Trump rally.