For all the talk of Trump’s abnormality, the fact that he’s always marched to the recognizable, old-school beats of the GOP drum has always been the less celebrated aspect of his time in politics. So there’s a danger in continually casting him as a pathbreaking sort of politician. Voters don’t like the status quo. They’ve repeatedly voted to reject the economic dogmas that have defined Republican policymaking for several consecutive elections. They thought that this was what they were getting from Trump in the first place—and the media did a much better job of selling Trump as a change-of-pace candidate, and clung to the notion that he was an economic populist long after he’d demonstrated no real interest in refreshing the Republican brand.
Democratic messaging needs to account for both Trump’s unique authoritarian leanings and his embrace of vintage Republican ideas. To solely advance the idea that Trump is a unique political figure in American life—a wild departure from the norm—runs the risk of implanting the idea that he is a politician bent on shattering the status quo during a time when many might prefer the short sharp shock of change. Ideally, you want to capture Trump as a chaos agent whose plans to sledgehammer the system won’t lead anywhere fruitful or new, but will more deeply entrench the unpopular ideas for which the GOP has long been known.
The clearest and most potent position for Democrats is to push on reproductive rights—it embodies the new post-Dobbs dystopia with the Republican Party’s decades-long effort to bring it about. Trump has, of late, escaped much attention for his abortion policy, in part because he’s skipped the Republican debates and in part because many of his opponents have adopted even more extreme positions. (Trump claims to oppose a nationwide abortion ban, though it seems highly likely he would sign one if he was given the chance.) More to the point, no one in the country is more responsible for the repeal of Roe v. Wade than Donald Trump, who appointed the three justices to the Supreme Court necessary to do the deed. Still, there is nothing new under the sun. Here we see a normal Republican doing normal Republican stuff. It is both odious and unpopular: Republicans have repeatedly lost elections when abortion is on the ballot. It will be again in 2024.