Published September 10, 2020 / Updated August 12, 2021
It would be easy to look at the unending torrent of scandals that beset the Trump administration and conclude that nothing matters, but that's far from the case.
Yesterday we covered the Bob Woodward’s book “Rage” and the revelation that the President knew and understood the seriousness of the Coronavirus pandemic as early as February 4th.
As often happens in American politics, one story can suck the oxygen from the room and Woodward’s bombshells seem to have done that today, but the nature of the Trump presidency has been one in which scandals don’t seem to stick to him for two reasons.
First, American media is always chasing the latest, greatest story. The Trump administration has been rife with scandal since before inauguration day, but each new one draws attention away from the one before it. So, like a man walking over hot coals, the administration is perversely protected by a media ecosystem that never lingers too long on any individual story.
But the second is probably more significant. It’s what Ben Domenech (of The Federalist) terms the “LOL Nothing Matters Republican.”
Domenech describes a brand of political nihilism among non-Trump-voting conservatives who’ve resigned themselves to the idea that “the apocalyptic predictions about right and left are happening no matter what white paper you publish, and that the lights will go down in the West, and will not be relit in their lifetimes.” Tim Miller has a great Op-Ed up in The Bulwark which takes that idea and runs with it, arguing that this “LOL Nothing Matters” Republicanism amounts to a way for non-Trumpist Republicans to shield themselves from what their party has become over the last four years.
It’s certainly a comforting argument. If politics really was always just about the horse race -- no ideals, no policies, no real lives and real people hanging in the balance -- then the hand wringing of the pundit class and political elites in just so much sound and fury. It’s far more comforting to dismiss all of that and focus in on putting the screws to liberals and entrenching the Republican power base.
That’s the intellectual underpinning of the “turn out the base” election strategy that the Trump campaign is betting on. If nothing matters then Republicans can rile up the base with more partisan red meat, suppress the minority vote wherever possible, and ride that record engagement to victory.
But if there really are some Americans whose minds can be changed or who can be persuaded that this election matters more than the one that came before it, then the foundation upon which the entire Trump campaign is built could crumble.
It is worth noting that Donald Trump’s margin of victory in 2020 was remarkably thin. Just 80,000 people in three states put him over the top. This outcome wasn’t probable but it was possible. FiveThirtyEight gave Trump about one chance in three of winning. Nate Silver got dragged pretty hard after 2016, but anomalies happen in politics; they just don’t happen frequently. That’s what makes them anomalies.
Today, Silver’s model gives Trump about one chance in four. Still not impossible, but not great odds either. All of which is to say that, as you read, listen, and learn more about Woodward’s revelations and the seeming avalanche of increasingly urgent stories that will trickle out between now and the election, look skeptically at the people who tell you that nothing matters.
So remember, elections can hang by a thread; something that convinces just 0.05% of voters can change the course of history.
Nothing matters? No. Everything matters.
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