Littwin: To beat Trump, Dems need a candidate who understands political chaos theory

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in a more congenial moment. A 'feud' between the two has since erupted.
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 30: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (R) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) greet each other at the start of the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 30, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. Both candidates say they support Medicare4All, which is expected to be a hot topic during round 3 of the Democratic primary debates on Sept. 12, 2019. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

As you’ve no doubt heard, two of the three leading Democratic primary contenders, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are both embracing Medicare4All, which some Democrats support and some see as a step too far and others see as impractical and others see as DOA no matter who controls Congress and still others see as self-destructive in the all-important race to upend Donald Trump.

I have a different take. I don’t know if Medicare4All could work. I’m pretty sure it would need a long phase-in and, even if it could become law, it would probably end up including alternative insurers. But that’s not my take.

My take is, outside the debate among Democratic primary contenders and those voters who will decide the winner, that the case for or against Medicare4All  — of which we’ll hear plenty in Thursday night’s debate — will have little to no impact on the 2020 general election. No matter who wins, Trump will accuse that Democrat of being a practicing socialist and, if history can be trusted, will be effective doing so. And the right-wing media machine, and maybe the Russian bots, will ready their Stalinist comparisons. And the rallies will be brutal, calling for someone to be locked up or sent home or sent to the gulag.

Ideology, for better or worse, won’t decide this election, which will be, as every day during Donald Trump’s tenure has been, all about Trump, and Trump doesn’t differentiate among Democrats any more than he does the media. They’re all enemies of the people.

It can’t be about ideology when Trump has no ideology, other than to please his base, and to make sure he can encourage as many people as possible — especially those who work for him or hope to flatter him — to stay at Trump properties around the world. It sure beats my Marriott rewards plan.

The race will be about Trumpian chaos and Trumpian corruption and Trumpian kids in cages and Trumpian Sharpies and Trumpian turning away of refugees and Trumpian bigotry and Trumpian racism and Trumpian ardor for authoritarian strongmen and on and on and on.

On the anniversary of 9/11, Trump was tweeting about fake news and polls. About Pocahontas and Sleepy Joe. About Trump. Of course he was. It could have been worse — and nearly was — with Trump having invited the Taliban to Camp David in the shadow of the 9/11 anniversary. John Bolton’s objection to this improbable plan probably got him fired, if, in fact, he didn’t resign. And though I’m happy to see the warmongering Bolton go — Bolton was the one encouraging Trump to bomb Iran — I’m glad he was there to toss in a dose of reality.

Chaos everywhere, and the best Democratic candidate, in my view, will be the one who can exploit the Trumpian chaos. Joe Biden is running, as I mentioned before, on the Make America Normal Again platform. It’s working for him so far, but my guess is that the primaries will eventually make clear who can best make the case against Trump and who can best defend himself/herself against Trump’s assaults and insults — Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg or someone else.

Can it really matter which candidate’s version of health-care reform is put forward when Trump has no version of health-care reform and has spent much of his first term trying to overturn Obamacare without any mention of replacement? Trump doesn’t care about details. The election won’t be decided on details.

Three recent polls all had Trump’s approval rating under 40 percent, which is low even by Trumpian standards. In a CNN/SSRS poll, six in 10 Americans say Trump doesn’t deserve re-election. Polls have all the top-five-polling Democrats ahead of Trump in one-to-one matchups. But as we should understand, what we learned in 2016, is that polls don’t guarantee anything. Many experts think that if the economy doesn’t collapse, Trump will have a reasonable chance to be reelected.

But what the numbers, and all the evidence, tell us is that, more than any other race in memory, this will be a referendum on the incumbent. I can’t remember where I read this, but this paraphrase is pretty perfect: The question in most elections is whether you’re better off now than you were four years ago; this time the question will be whether you can stand the idea of where you would be under four more years of Trump.

I was just doing a little thought experiment on how historians might treat Sharpiegate, a fiasco of so little importance and yet one which explains Trump in the starkest terms. You know the story. In one of his Hurricane Dorian forecast tweets, Trump included Alabama as a state that might get hit hard. By that time, it turned out, Alabama was completely in the clear and, in fact, had never been in the so-called cone of uncertainty. Upon learning that Alabama wasn’t threatened, all Trump had to do was tweet out something like this: “Good news. Since the last forecast, I hear Alabama will almost certainly not get hit by Dorian. While I fear for the East Coast and will be watching closely, I’m thrilled for the great state of Alabama.” And that would have been that.

Instead the Birmingham Weather Service office needed to issue a statement saying that Alabama was not endangered. And so Trump, as he will, blew up at the thought he was being criticized because who knows more about weather than he does. That’s when he produced the fourth-grade-level Sharpified alternative weather map. And several days later, the NOAA put out on an anonymous statement throwing the Birmingham National Weather Service scientists under the bus.

If only it had stopped there. But The New York Times reported that Ross had threatened the jobs of the political appointees leading the NOAA if they didn’t back Trump’s forecast. And then The Washington Post reported that Trump ordered his staff to make sure that the NOAA would write a retraction, and that acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney called Ross to follow through. And a full-blown scandal, with a series of investigations to come, was born.

This is the era of Trump in a cone of certainty — that chaos begets chaos begets never-ending chaos, which, in fact, will not end even if Trump is beaten. Elizabeth Warren says she has a plan for virtually everything. Whichever Democrats runs against Trump had better have a plan for that.


  1. Win, lose, or forcibly removed from office, t-wrecks has already set buck the idea of democracy.The fact that trumposaurus has not yet been tared, feathered and run out of town on a rail, causes any somewhat clear eyed observer to conclude that America is not yet ready for democracy, And with the lack ov funding for education, it is problematic that we will be in the foreseeable future. Our only hope is that we declare ourselves to be a two bit banana and perhaps with global warming imminent, we might have a decent crop by 2030.

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