On PBS’ Washington Week on January 8, Astead Herndon of the New York Times commented:
“[Unity and healing the soul of the nation] is something that is not just a political move from [President-Elect Joe Biden], but it’s how he sees and understands the universe … I’ve talked to people who are in [transition] meetings with him … who are trying to get him … to budge to embrace unilateral executive orders to prioritize things like combatting racial injustice or other issues over the idea of bipartisanship …. But Joe Biden has responded to them … that he is certain that there is going to be a break from Trumpism among Republicans and that he is going to hold on to that belief. … The question is whether he will be so concerned with healing hearts and minds or whether there will be a focus on the policy change that can happen. Because whether Congressional Republicans break with Trump or not, what we know is that the base has been with [Mr. Trump]. And the American people on the conservative side have still been motivated by him.”
I stated in a couple of recent posts that I didn’t think Democrats’ latest efforts to impeach President Trump are wise because I feared that impeachment efforts might alienate a significant segment of Mr. Trump’s voters who I believed would, because of the storming of the Capitol and if not antagonized, be amenable to a message of reconciliation and collaboration from incoming President Biden. I was a bit surprised by the vibrant reaction I received from several learned followers of these pages, who asserted that the defense of the Republic required that Mr. Trump’s traitorous behavior be immediately punished. [Joe Scarborough made a related suggestion on MSNBC’s Morning Joe yesterday, pointing out that impeachment proceedings might detract from the focus on the Biden Administration agenda; he was roundly berated by his entire panel, including a truly wifely rebuke from his spouse and co-host, Mika Brzezinski. I could sympathize with him ;)]. I still have the temerity to venture, however, that despite the satisfaction I will feel if Mr. Trump is convicted in a Senate impeachment trial, and the even greater satisfaction I will feel if evidence ultimately results in Mr. Trump being criminally convicted, the vitality of our Republic depends much more on looking forward than upon looking back, and would submit that whether or not they are influenced by Democrats’ impeachment proceedings, the extent to which a significant segment of those who voted for Mr. Trump last November are open to Mr. Biden’s initiatives could be the pivotal factor that determines whether our democratic system can continue during the coming decades in the manner it has for the last two and a half centuries.
In reflecting upon Trump voters’ reaction to Mr. Biden’s impending inauguration on January 20, I would place them in four categories: the Seditious – those who either have or are prepared by violent means to keep Mr. Trump in power; the Brainwashed – those who will never resort to violence, but are convinced due to the lies and propaganda of Mr. Trump, his enablers, and the alt-right media and despite all objective evidence to the contrary, that he won the election; the Implacable – those who know Mr. Trump lost, but will instinctively disagree with every Biden Administration initiative; and the Reachable – those who are open to accommodation with Mr. Biden depending upon the proposals he puts forth.
A Washington Post-ABC News Poll released on January 15 indicates that Mr. Trump maintains an approval rating of 79% among Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents, but that 25% reject Mr. Trump’s claims of voter fraud and 35% – consisting primarily of the moderate, college-educated segment, double the percentage of 2018 — believes that the party should move away from Mr. Trump. Additionally, Republican affiliation numbers have gone down since the election; 31% of those polled by Gallup in the week before the election identified themselves as Republicans, but by December 17, that number had shrunk to 25% of all respondents (Independents climbing from 38% to 41%, Democrats holding steady throughout at 31%). While the percentage of Republicans continuing to cling to Mr. Trump is clearly relevant to Republican officeholders, the rising percentage of disaffected Republicans may provide a fertile opportunity for the President-Elect. Given the hyper-partisan environment in which we’ve been trapped, if Mr. Biden takes office with close to 75% of Americans open to consideration of the centrist course he has espoused, he may have a genuine opportunity to move forward on several of the key challenges facing our nation if he moves aggressively — but upon moderate initiatives – at the beginning of his term. (An interesting side note: that while Republicans’ numbers have gone down, Democrats’ numbers have not gone up. The apparent disgust with Mr. Trump and his enablers of those Americans renouncing their GOP affiliation seemingly doesn’t mean that they favor avidly progressive programs — another indication that the best way forward may be a moderate course.)
Something I would offer, and venture that Mr. Biden viscerally embraces: unilateral presidential action, notwithstanding the urging of his advisors as reported by Mr. Herndon, does not work. Out of understandable frustration with an obstructionist Republican Congress, President Barack Obama resorted to Executive Orders to get things “done” – some of such Orders, while admittedly driven by good intentions, of questionable Constitutionality. Mr. Trump assumed office and, by Executive Order, proceeded to “undo” most of what Mr. Obama had “done.” Mr. Biden has already pledged that in his first days, he will issue a slew of Executive Orders to “undo” most of what Mr. Trump has “done.” Such an approach achieves only whiplash within the body politic. Some level of compromise between competing interests is the only way to sustainable progress. I have spent less time on the presidency of President Dwight Eisenhower than I should have, but have read that one of the reasons Mr. Eisenhower – America’s most revered hero after WWII — decided to seek the 1952 Republican presidential nomination was that he learned, in discussions with then-Republican presidential nomination frontrunner U.S. OH Sen. Robert Taft, that Mr. Taft opposed America’s continued participation in the NATO alliance [some issues never die ;)] engineered by the Truman Administration. Mr. Eisenhower – despite having little personal regard for Mr. Truman — considered the alliance a necessary bulwark against Soviet aggression in Europe. While in office, Mr. Eisenhower also refused to undermine the Democrat-passed Social Security program (as did his successor Republican president who revered him, Richard Nixon), a refusal which resulted in bipartisan acceptance of what is arguably a socialist program.
So as Congressional impeachment efforts proceed and notwithstanding the effect they might have on the segment of Trump supporters who now rue their votes, the question remains: as Mr. Biden goes forward, how many of Mr. Trump’s voters are open to our incoming President? Although with aggressive domestic counterterrorism efforts, our Republic can survive a percent or two of dangerous “Always Trumpers,” and we can make progress as a nation with a minority of our people implacably (but nonviolently) opposed to any initiative the Biden Administration puts forth, I would submit that in order to heal our nation and achieve substantive policy progress, Mr. Biden will need to obtain and maintain a notable level of acquiescence to his leadership in a significant segment of those that voted for Mr. Trump last November.
The Lord – later cited by President Lincoln – noted that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Are enough Trump voters reachable? Mr. Biden clearly believes so. I think he’s right. I hope he’s right.