It’s not something he does very often, but this time President Donald Trump was telling the truth when, in his rambles before the National Rifle Association Convention in Dallas — he pointed out that the upcoming midterms will be determined by voter turnout.
Turnout is always the be-all and end-all when it comes to any election, but it’s particularly vital in this one. The Democrats will get the chance to demonstrate whether they can abandon their usual backbiting and lethargy, and instead channel all the anti-Trump horror into crowds at polling places.
Donald Trump is not even on the 2018 ballot. It’s a race to control Congress, but he recognizes that if Dems take over the GOP-majority Senate or House, or even just the House, his presidency is in deep doo-doo. The opposition will be empowered to constantly harass him and even impeach him if the stars align. The Trumpster by sheer force of his nasty demagoguery has done everything he can to line those stars up so he must now whip up even more intense hate among the millions in his base so they’ll turn up at the ballot box and vote their fears and prejudices. That’s why he was preaching to his NRA choir that “We’ve got to do great in ‘18.”
He is well-aware that he needs to create more passion on the right, even for those in the party who are less than enthusiastic about him. They are even less enthusiastic about the Democrats, who are doing everything they can to overcome the divisions that invariably define them.
Already, the D’s are bickering over whether they’ll stick with Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House if they take over. The R’s demonize her nonstop, so many candidates in her party are running away from Pelosi as hard as they’re running for their congressional seat. But they also have to run from their party’s notorious ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. If they can’t channel their anti-Trump frenzy into voter turnout, then in the words of Rep. Jim Clyburn, a member of Pelosi’s leadership team, “If we’re still in the minority, all of us have got to go.” There are those who believe that if the Democratic organization cannot turn the anti-Trump resistance into a “wave” of voters, then perhaps the time really has come to look for a replacement for the Democratic Party.
It is not overstating it to argue that this election, as much as any in our history, will define the United States of America. Even though he’s not on the ballot, his fellow countrymen and women will be deciding whether to reject or accept Donald Trump’s record as president after nearly two years of racism, misogyny, outright stupidity and autocratic tendencies, as well as his constant lying. Is such a person the one who should continue to lead this country? It’s the first chance since Trump had his election handed to him by the feckless opposition, with a little help from his friend Vladimir Putin, for the citizens of the United States to make it clear what we stand for.
And it’s not just one campaign, it’s 470 for Congress alone — all 435 House seats are up for grabs and 35 in the Senate. That probably will make it difficult for the Russians to steal all of them. It’s one thing to get one campaign to collude with them, but 470 would be tough.
But those other adversaries of U.S. democracy, the big-money contributors, will be spreading their financial poison over most of the races. Already they are dumping huge amounts. Through hook and crook — mainly crook — they can pay for misleading ads that smear anyone they decide they need to oppose.
Still, the wild card is the wild man. Donald Trump is impervious to scandal with those in his base. If the opposition can’t match their turnout, it will be the scandal that indelibly stains the nation.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.