Did the Resistance Defeat Donald Trump?

Then, too, the gains from the Resistance mentality came with a political price. The anti-Trump closing-of-ranks within elite institutions helped shore up the president’s populist bona fides, his claim to represent outsiders and non-elites, even when his actual policies favored insiders and the rich. The tendency to see an authoritarian depredation behind every policy move, however banal, weakened the credibility of the media, especially putatively neutral outlets like CNN. The pitch of anti-Trumpism bound once-dubious Republicans to his cause, almost matching the mobilization on the Democratic side.

And the liberal belief that Trump was obviously, self-evidently a white supremacist and semi-fascist left liberalism somewhat blindsided by the voters who disagreed: not just the white shy-Trumpers of the suburbs but also the Trump-voting Latinos and African-Americans who helped keep the 2020 race competitive, denying Biden his blowout and the Resistance the full repudiation of Trumpism that it sought.

On the right, meanwhile, the Trumpist conceit that the Mueller investigation or MSNBC hysteria were the main forces preventing a more successful Trump agenda gives that opposition way too much credit — and Trump himself way too little blame. It was not the Resistance but his own indifference that induced Trump to outsource policymaking to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell during the two years when his party actually controlled the government. It was not the Mueller investigation but the attempted Obamacare repeal and a not-very-populist tax plan that drove his polling numbers to their notable lows.

When Kayleigh McEnany complained recently that her boss “was never given an orderly transition of power,” she had a point — but the major source of disorder was not Crossfire Hurricane or the Steele dossier but just the Trump team’s own incompetence, notably Jared Kushner’s decision to ditch Chris Christie’s transition plan without having a replacement.

The Resistance may have induced Democrats to take a lot of party-line votes against the president, but if Trump actually pursued his promised infrastructure bill he would have found Democratic takers. In areas where he had competent people working for him (judicial nominations, above all), the political and media opposition was impotent to stop him. Impeachment was just a segue into his presidency’s peak, a triumphant State of the Union address just before the coronavirus came calling. Even late in 2020, Nancy Pelosi was willing to make a deal with him on a big new round of coronavirus relief, which might have helped save his re-election bid — yet Trump preferred instead to go down tweeting.

So treating Biden the way Trump was treated, opposing him as Trump was opposed, is only a devastating strategy if you assume that Biden and his White House will miss as many opportunities and perform as many face-plants as Trump’s administration did.

And that’s without even getting into the fact that the Republican campaign to delegitimize Biden can’t really emulate the Resistance, since the whole point of the anti-Trump effort was to mobilize a political and cultural establishment from which the populist right is notably excluded. At most a refusal to recognize Biden’s legitimacy could keep congressional Republicans voting in lock step against whatever the new president supports. But most would vote in lock step anyway, and the Republican senators most likely to break ranks, a Mitt Romney or a Susan Collins, are the least likely to be swayed by appeals to Biden’s supposed illegitimacy.

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