Would Republican voters rather live under a government like that of Russia, or one like that of California? This sounds a bit like those polling questions we used to laugh at, such as the 2009 finding that 14% of New Jersey Republicans thought Obama was Antichrist and 15% weren’t sure. But it actually reflects the choice Republican voters may well be facing.
Update: I was worried that I might be going over the top with this post. Immediately after putting it up, I found Bret Stephens saying much the same thing, (substituting Ukraine for Russia) in the New York Times. Not that I need Stephens’ endorsement, but obviously these thoughts are in the air. Also, I think Noah Smith mentioned the California scenario a while back, but I couldn’t find where. End update
First, suppose that Trump is re-elected in 2020. That would give him sufficient time to eliminate the last residues of pre-Trumpist thinking within the Republican party and to comprehensively pack the courts with compliant appointees. By 2024, even if he did not seek to ignore the two-term limit, he would be in a position to appoint one of his children as the Republican nominee. As regards the election result, the Republicans have relied on voter suppression for a long time, and would surely not resist Trump’s adoption of more extreme measures, along the lines of Putin, in order to ensure the right outcome. After that, Trumpism would be permanently established. The likelihood that not a single Republican politician will vote to impeach or convict Trump shows that even overt criminality is not going to be a problem.
On the other hand, if Trump is defeated (and yields power), the prospect of California looms large. The defeat would certainly lead to a revival of never-Trumpism and a long period of disarray, making a second loss in 2024 highly likely. By 2028, the combination of demographic change and restoration of voting rights would have the potential to put the Republicans into semi-permanent minority. While that’s never happened in US federal politics, it’s commonplace at the state level, so there are no clear balancing processes that would ensure a return swing of the pendulum.
Neither of these is inevitable. A severe depression in the early 2020s, for example, could derail whichever party won in 2020. But each is more likely, in my view, than the idea of a return to the relative normality of the pre-Trump 2000s, let alone a return to 20th century bipartisanship.
And while this of most direct concern to Americans, it matters everywhere. Trump is the natural friend of dictators everywhere, even if they inevitably fall out from time to time. It’s hard to see democracy surviving anywhere if it fails in the US. Conversely, the defeat of Trump would shatter the idea of inevitable advance that helps to motivate Trumpists everywhere, and would present Putin, Erdogan, Netanyahu and the rest with a US Administration that would (at the very least) be happy to see them depart the scene.
Coming back to the original question, my guess is that a poll along these lines would produce a plurality in favor of Russia, and that actual voting will produce overwhelming majority support for every step along the way. But it’s not necessary to convince the Republican base of the danger here. The defection of a few million Republican-leaning independents would be sufficient to beat Trump, as long as Democratic turnout is maintained, and voter suppression is successfully resisted.
Most Republican voters don’t yet realise the path they are following. But if you had told them, in 2015, that they would be cheering Trump a few years later, they would have laughed. There’s no sign yet of any improvement.
In this context, it’s interesting to look back at the claims of Jonathan Haidt that conservatives understood liberals better than vice versa. His method was to compare the views liberals imputed to conservatives (essentially that they were Trumpists) with the self-descriptions of conservatives. As it’s turned out, liberals knew conservatives better than conservatives knew themselves*. Haidt’s own trajectory, from progressive concern troll to the “Intellectual Dark Web” illustrates this.