The Rationalist Papers (15): Big tent

Lincoln Project leaders. Photo: 60 Minutes

American presidential politics has always been about winning over the middle. And Donald Trump has abandoned the middle.

Are you in the middle?

Just a reminder: these Rationalist Papers posts are for the group I call the deciders: conservative, moderate, undecided, and third-party voters considering their choices in the 2020 US Presidential election.

Who’s for Biden? Certainly traditional liberals, progressives, even those with a socialist bent (although no rational person could call Joe Biden a socialist).

Who’s for Trump? People who like what he’s been doing on immigration, protective tariffs, and taking all gambits to fight off his opponents.

But this leaves a huge swath of people behind. These people are traditional pro-business conservatives who are uneasy with the rude, authoritarian, and arguably unconstitutional behavior of this president, from refusing to condemn white supremacists to holding campaign rallies at the White House.

Trump has driven many Republicans into the arms of Biden

If you saw “60 Minutes” last night, you saw Leslie Stahl’s story about the Lincoln Project, a group of Republican strategists now making devastating ads criticizing President Trump. The leaders of this movement, including John McCain’s former senior campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, say they will never work in Republican politics again. Why are they doing this?

Because the Republican Party headed by Trump has left them behind, and they are concerned about the direction the country is headed under him.

As John Weaver, a strategist who worked for John McCain and John Kasich told Leslie Stahl, “We’ve gone from caring about character, rule of law, defending the constitution, a cogent national security policy, free trade, where are all those issues? Imagine if you had traveled the country for 30 years, fighting for Republican principles, and you learn it was all a lie. No one cares about all the issues that we fought for.”

The list of prominent Republicans backing Biden is long. It includes former presidential candidate John Kasich and hundreds of other prominent Republicans, including dozens of former senators and governors. Two hundred former leaders in the George W. Bush White House and cabinet are backing Biden. So are 500 former military and national security leaders — not a group known for its love of Democrats. (Active duty military are prohibited from political activity.)

What is the calculus that these people are making?

It is that the benefits they may get from another four years of Trump (conservative judges, lower taxes, fewer regulations, larger defense budget) are not worth the chaos, unbalanced government, politics of nastiness, and capricious decision-making of the current president. Trump has shown that he has no loyalty to any Republican principles — he is out only for himself and his core group of supporters. There’s no point in fighting for your American principles when democracy is under threat and your president behaves like a king.

The big tent

Because of the rule of the two-party system in America, the winning strategy for any leader is to appeal to the middle. You must balance the need to generate enthusiasm from your base, which may be extreme, and the need to gather votes from “swing voters” who are not firmly in either camp. Appealing to the middle is how you win over states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Hampshire that have flipped between Democrats and Republicans in recent elections.

Trump has rejected this strategy. On every issue, he appeals to his base: rural or working-class whites without a degree who are suspicious of “elites,” minorities, and “foreigners.”

As you consider voting, think of who you are joining and the influence your own ideas will have in the next administration.

Because Biden has the backing of progressives, moderates, and the long list of former Republicans like the Lincoln project, he’ll need to govern in a moderate way to maintain that coalition. Expect sober leadership. Expect outreach to the middle (he’s explicitly campaigned on this). Progressives like Bernie Sanders will also influence him as well.

You can expect a return to the traditional foreign policy alliances that characterized America (Europe over Russia, for example) and a rational and balanced perspective on issues from taxes to social justice.

Because Trump has narrowed his appeal only to his base, expect more protectionism, tolerance of white supremacy, authoritarian use of federal forces, and scorched-earth tactics. If he wins based on this core group — with potential help from legal action and blocking of mail ballots — it’s game over. No group will ever influence him again, and he will have no need reach out to or respect anyone else in government or politics.

You need to pick a team. Which team is most likely to protect your future and the future of the American Republic?

Feel free to post comments. However, I will delete comments that insult or demean me, other commenters, or groups, or state supposed facts without evidence. Vacuous cheerleading and catcalling is also prohibited; this is not a sporting event. No one persuades anyone by creating a hostile environment.

For the origin of the Rationalist Papers, see this. All Rationalist Papers posts available here.

Here’s the “60 Minutes” piece.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. I have to give you credit for sticking to your goal through 15 detailed arguments. However, if I were an undecided voter I’d be nervous not so much about a Biden administration, but rather a Harris administration. Does anyone really believe that Biden is in good health, physically or mentally, or if elected, that he’s going to last his entire term?

      1. “Orange Hitler.” Classy, but not unexpected. But that’s not my question – if elected, Biden would be the oldest ever elected to the Office – do you really believe he’s going to serve four full years? And if not, are you concerned with Harris replacing him? If you were an undecided voter, would you be OK with President Harris?