As the 2020 Presidential election barrels to a close, Donald Trump is in a superficially familiar position: the preemptive loser. Even the most battle-wounded Democrats are now talking about the potential of a blue-wave; a repudiation of Trump that could sweep Republicans out of power across the legislative and executive branches.
There is a knee jerk reaction in media to frame the state of this race in terms of the 2016 campaign. Yes, Trump is the underdog again, but there are fundamental differences between this point in the 2020 election and the 2016 election.
And those factors are laid out best, inadvertently, by Rich Lowry’s newest column in the National Review.
The biggest difference between now and 2016 is that Trump is no longer the outsider, he’s an incumbent President. Yet his incumbency has been such a disaster that there is only one possible closing argument: cultural nihilism. A victory predicated on how great it would feel to make everyone mad, how awesome the victory would be as a “gigantic rude gesture to the cultural Left”, as Lowry frames it.
Four years ago, the National Review was still making peace with their candidate, after taking a brave and utterly ineffective stand against Trump in the primary. Now, Lowry is thoroughly—if slightly cautiously—onboard with Trumpism, a project increasingly defined in the terms of a trollish death cult.
Lowry to his credit, identifies the “pandemic that still isn’t under control” as a failing of Trump. Additionally, he is cognizant of a poor campaign he described as a “characteristic series of Trumpian outrages and distractions,” and a focus on messaging that only matters “to him and a narrow band of his most intense supporters”. To put it simply, “no one is voting for [Trump’s] barely sketched-out second-term agenda.”
But then why would someone vote for Trump? In Lowry’s mind, rather than disqualifying Trump, these sins only serve to underline the potentially monumental nature of a Trump victory. It would vindicate Trump as “the foremost symbol of resistance to the overwhelming woke cultural tide that has swept along the media, academia, corporate America, Hollywood, professional sports, the big foundations, and almost everything in between.”
In other words, Trump is “the vessel for registering opposition to everything from the 1619 Project to social media’s attempted suppression of the Hunter Biden story.”
You might call this a laughable pseudo-endorsement of Trump by one of the media’s foremost weenies. And it certainly is! But Lowry’s column might as well be plastered on Air Force One for the final week of this campaign.
Trump has given up on running a campaign focused on a semblance of real issues. Instead, he has adopted an endgame characterized by feverish ravings, messaging manifested either in the form of self-parody of traditional conservatism or by surfacing the deepest swamps of far-right media narratives. In a recent interview with 60 Minutes, Trump took the long-simmering resentment that conservatives feel towards the media and recasted it purely on individual grounds, demanding that correspondent Leasley Stahl be nicer to him personally. An audacious attempt by the White House to leak information critical of Hunter Biden to the Wall Street Journal was derailed by the clown-car of media-thirsty cronies that surround Trump, turning a story that could’ve given the campaign the opportunity to crusade (however hypocritically) against nepotism and corruption to a radioactive circus of alleged sex tapes, social media meta-commentary, and incomprehensible conspiracy theories.
Because the issues of the moment are so detrimental to Trump, he has sought to simply ignore them, leaning into the imagined grievance and vicious spite that has fueled so much of his presidency. Lowry seems to be hoping that the voting public will go along with Trump; to vindicate Trump’s furious critiques of the media reporting on coronavirus while ignoring the actual death toll of the pandemic, to elect a President that has unleashed a new era of executive branch corruption in the name of sticking it to 60 Minutes.
225,000 bodies later, this is all they have left.