Opinion: U.S. dreads a Trump-Biden rematch. Lincoln Project co-founder says we should face reality.

Donald Trump has a dominant position inside the Republican Party

October 4, 2023 5:26 am

U.S. Capitol police officers point their guns at a door that was vandalized in the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session to ratify President Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump and was temporarily halted by an attempted insurrection. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images) (This image cannot be republished without a subscription to Getty.)

Everyday folks don’t want to think about it because it makes them uncomfortable and sad.

National news media types don’t want to think about it because they have stories to write throughout the next year.

The truth is, however, barring a bolt from the blue, next year’s U.S. presidential election will feature Democratic incumbent Joe Biden running against Republican Donald Trump. All of the drama and dread we came to expect in 2016 and 2020 will return, only tireder. The sooner we focus on the specifics of the likely race, Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson told me in this week’s Kansas Reflector podcast, the better off we’ll be.

“There’s a natural desire to want to have a political horse race, there’s a natural desire to want to have a contest, even where one doesn’t really exist,” said Wilson, a longtime GOP strategist and ad maker who spurned Trump all the way back in 2015. Founded by former Republican stalwarts, the Lincoln Project has devoted itself to opposing Trump and supporting democracy.

“We all know how this is going to turn out,” he continued. “We knew from the beginning there wasn’t gonna be a big Democratic primary. We knew from the beginning that Donald Trump had a dominant position inside the Republican Party at every single level that mattered. … It’s one thing to want something politically, but it’s another thing to acknowledge the realities of where we stand in the country. And the reality is, it’s going to be a Trump and Biden shootout.”

Republican strategist Rick Wilson is a co-founder of the Lincoln Project. (The Lincoln Project)

Since Wilson and I spoke last month, Trump has continued to trample on norms. He called for the execution of outgoing U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley. He may have purchased a handgun illegally. He pushed for a government shutdown to “defund” the myriad criminal prosecutions against him.

Most Americans, most Kansans for that matter, likely don’t want to pay attention.

They want to move on and think about something else.

But that’s not going to happen. Trump has a pathological need for attention, and as long as he breathes and has a receptive audience, he will do anything to get it. Forget running for president in 2024. If he loses and stays healthy, he will run again in 2028. If he wins, he will push for a repeal of the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution so he can run for a third term. If the man could push through the horror of Jan. 6, 2021, when he instigated an armed insurrection against the government he led, he will push through any barriers in pursuit of power.

Meanwhile, Biden seems like a nice fellow who has done a credible job as president. The United States boasts low unemployment, workers have seen higher wages (although inflation has taken a toll) and NATO has been united in fending off an authoritarian aggressor. Those accomplishments haven’t translated into widespread support, though.

Wilson sees that as more or less baked into the current partisan environment.

“We live in a country now where where no president is likely to get above 50% ever again. That’s how divided we are as a nation,” he told me. “And I get it, I do I get it. The difficulty (Biden) faces is that there’s a massive media machine on the other side that every day declares that the world is burning. The economy is terrible. And has this sort of fantasy vision that doesn’t match up to the realities or the numbers.”

I’m flummoxed looking ahead to next year.

On one hand, Trump seems like more cartoon character than candidate at this point. His rallies have devolved into bizarre soliloquies of rage and vengeance. What kind of second term would he have, and who on earth would volunteer to work for him?

On the other, Biden seems to fade into view like a faint TV transmission from an earlier era, the kind of spotty broadcast where you miss every third word. He hails from a more genteel era of politics that has been almost entirely obliterated by angry ideologues. Even a lengthy list of accomplishments, it seems, can’t match the allure of angry talking heads.

Are we really going to do this?

If so, a wider perspective might help. Kansas proved last year how voters would turn out to support abortion rights. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe vs. Wade has transformed politics around the issue. Wilson told me engagement with the subject has scarcely waned.

“If you ask a random Democratic consultant, ‘Hey, what are the big issues?’ they would tell you, the economy, climate, guns, cat and dog other things, right?” he said. “None of those things break out of the lowest possible tier compared to Dobbs. Dobbs is the killer app. Dobbs is the thing that has that has a wildly disproportionate impact on voter behavior.

“As of right now, the other thing that has been underscored is that Americans now understand that our democracy is under threat. And between jobs and democracy … there’s a much different political climate in the country than anybody anticipated two years ago.”

Wilson and I talked about so much more during the podcast, including the current political environment and next year’s elections. He also gave his opinion on the “No Labels” group, which has been attempting to put a third-party presidential candidate on the ballot. Please listen.

For the next 13 months, you might want to buckle up.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone serves as Kansas Reflector's opinion editor. His columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and websites across the state and nation. He has written and edited for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, and Before joining the Reflector in summer 2021, Clay spent four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.