Donald Trump has just about wrapped up the Republican nomination for President of the United States. He’s won most or all of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Virginia, and he’s made Ted Cruz sweat in his home-state of Texas. Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich will soldier on, maybe for months, but voters should get ready for a summer’s and fall’s worth of a multi-billionaire’s insults, incitements, and Twitter rants. In November, Americans will go to the polls and will be able to choose whether or not Donald Trump will become our Commander-in-Chief.
How we got to this ridiculous, embarrassing juncture is a discussion for another day. Today, in the aftermath of Super Tuesday, plenty of Democrats might be feeling smug. How could Hillary — or even Bernie, if he pulls off an improbable upset — lose to this orange buffoon? Most Republicans aren’t even behind him, so 270 electoral votes must be out of the question for Trump.
Some liberals are already salivating at the possibility of being competitive in states like South Dakota, Georgia, and Kentucky. With a nominee struggling to distance himself from a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, how could the Republicans hold onto the Senate? Gerrymandering be damned, the House could be in play too!
But the longer liberals delude themselves into thinking this race is over, the more dangerous this situation becomes. Make no mistake: Donald Trump has a real path to the White House, and it runs right through the heads and hearts and minds of middle- and upper middle-class white voters.
Even if Hillary Clinton escapes indictment for her emails and the Chinese economy props itself up long enough to stave off a recession before Election Day, a major swath of white America can easily put Donald Trump in the Oval Office. Generally affluent and well-educated, they say things like this:
1. “I’m socially liberal, but I’m fiscally conservative.”
Anecdotally, this is a political stance occupied almost exclusively by well-off white people. If you feel this way, and you believe what comes out of The Donald’s mouth, you could be swayed to vote for the guy. His past support for reproductive rights and gay marriage means that he probably won’t do anything too crazy there, and he’ll make some great deals and cut taxes and #MakeAmericaGreatAgain. People who felt this way used to be faced with a tough — some would argue false — choice every four Novembers, but there isn’t a chance in hell that people who identify with this statement are breaking en masse for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in 2016.
2. “I don’t care what the FBI or anyone else says. I’ll never trust Hillary Clinton. Look how she lied about Benghazi/Whitewater/Vince Foster!”
This has been covered at some length in other pieces, but the fact remains: no political figure in modern American history has faced a quarter-century of smears, character assassinations, and overall media scrutiny quite like Secretary Clinton. These attacks have been amplified because she is a woman. Period. Let’s be clear — there are plenty of legitimate concerns about Hillary as a candidate, and her career and beliefs are 100% fair game in deciding whether or not to support her. But Republicans of all stripesdespise Clinton even more than they do President Obama, so unless moderate Democrats and Independents can cut through the crap to evaluate her as a potential Commander-in-Chief, she is doomed.
3. “The system is broken, and my vote doesn’t count. I’m staying home.”
Bernie Sanders has given a voice to millions of Americans — many of them young, many of them people of color — whose very lives are proof that our political system needs a dramatic shakeup. No matter the outcome of the Democratic primaries, he has pulled the party far to the left and made income inequality the central issue on the liberal side of the aisle. By any realistic measure, his supporters should consider his campaign a success. But the debate has turned divisive, particularly on the Internet. Whether or not the #BernieBros even existed, there is no doubt that plenty of Sanders’s still-overwhelmingly white supporters have directed their ire at the establishment candidate as if she were a proxy for the Republican Party as well. If these voters refuse to hold their nose and punch a vote for Clinton in the general election, the Democratic Party will have serious problems up and down the ballot.
Is it you?
You know people who say these things. You might actually believe one or more of these statements. But taken together, the three represent a concoction that could end in disaster: rich folks feel free to vote Trump, leftists stay home or vote for this year’s Ralph Nader, and Hillary can’t keep her head above water in a battle against a backbreaking amount of unfounded criticism. Trump’s shameless white identity politics make him competitive in Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, and Pennsylvania, and maybe — just maybe — we all have to live with a giant TRUMP sign on the South Lawn: all because a coalition of largely privileged Americans refused to think through the consequences of their actions.
Where this leaves us
A majority of black voters aren’t going to put the Klan’s candidate in the White House. A majority of Latinos aren’t going to elect a Wall-Builder-in-Chief. White Americans will be the ones who choose whether or not to make Donald Trump President.
And that gets us to the tragic part: the people who will bear the brunt of white voters’ decisions do not look like them. White families aren’t going to be torn apart by deportations. White communities don’t risk being brutalized by emboldened police forces or threatened by reinvigorated white supremacist groups. In all likelihood, we’re going to be fine. But with the battle lines of the general election becoming clearer, the time to choose is coming sooner than people think. Donald Trump only got this far because we were asleep at the wheel. It’s time to wake up.