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The problem with Republican doomsday predictions for a Biden presidency

Donald Trump and his surrogates are sounding bleak alarms about a potential President Biden. How have predictions in the last few elections panned out?

The problem with Republican doomsday predictions for a Biden presidency
[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore; Faris Mohammed/Unsplash]

Even though the 2016 election sent conventional wisdom hurtling through space like George Clooney’s character in Gravity, a lot of politicos remain invested in the prediction business.

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Noted diaper enthusiast Charlie Kirk, who has called Donald Trump “the bodyguard of Western civilization,” predicts that a Joe Biden presidency would spell grave danger for your children. (Unclear who “you” refers to in this hypothetical.)

Embattled Health and Human Services chief Michael Caputo, meanwhile, has predicted that Biden and his followers will attempt a violent coup if Trump is victorious in November, echoing a prediction that boating Svengali Steve Bannon recently shared on his podcast.

Both of these predictions underline the general theme of the recent Republican National Convention, during which the gun-toting “Karen and Ken” from St. Louis claimed that Democrats “want to abolish the suburbs altogether,” and Mike Pence suggested that “the choice in this election is whether America remains America.”

While a certain amount of alarmism is to be expected—and certainly exists on the other side as well—when deciding which account to take more seriously (or literally, for that matter), it’s instructive to look back at some predictions from the previous three elections.

Although it was pretty clear in 2008 that the tide had turned against George W. Bush and the Gulf War, the prospect of a President Obama was by no means embraced by all. Among the many outlandish predictions his detractors made before the election:

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  • Speaking for much of her party, one-time Republican presidential hopeful Michelle Bachman said that Obama would be responsible for “punishing tax rates, redistribution of wealth, socialized medicine, inputting censorship in the form of the un-Fairness Doctrine and taking away the secret ballot from the worker.”
  • Gun-toting “Jailbait” musician Ted Nugent vowed an Obama victory would ensure that Nugent would either be dead or in jail the following year.
  • Fans of then-Republican candidate John McCain, in this video, claimed that Obama would change both the American flag and the national anthem.
  • Fox News speculated that Obama would forfeit the Gulf War and start a new one, and that race relations would transform “from a thorny issue to an explosive one.”

Needless to say, none of those things happened during Obama’s presidency. Although he famously did pass the Affordable Care Act, the version that made it through was so watered down, the term “socialized medicine” doesn’t quite apply, and it took Donald Trump being president for race relations to reach the explosive level of tension we’ve seen in 2020.

Shockingly, the only major prediction about an Obama presidency that proved out was Sarah Palin’s claim that Putin would invade Ukraine. (Even a broken clock, etc., etc.) Not that there’s much correlation between Putin’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine and Obama’s election.

Besides, by the time Palin’s prophecy was fulfilled, there was a whole slew of fresh doomsday predictions from Republicans about what an Obama re-election in 2012 would mean for America. This time around, somehow the predictions were even more unhinged:

  • A Texas judge predicted full-on civil war.
  • Right-wing think tank American Enterprise Institute was sure that “the Defense Department will be gutted, with cuts so deep that America will no longer be a superpower,” and it expected “the Environmental Protection Agency to impose crushing new burdens on U.S. business.” (Heaven forbid!)
  • In an ad called “Welcome to Obamaville,” Rick Santorum warned that freedom of religion would be under attack, and that Iran would obtain and possibly use nuclear weapons.
  • And, of course, Chuck Norris claimed America would face “1,000 years of darkness.”

Meanwhile, in reality, Obama spent the second of his two terms continuing to reach across the aisle and having his hand smacked away. And only if you consider the legality of gay marriage an assault on religious freedom did religious freedom come under attack between 2013 and 2017. But perhaps the scariest prediction about a second Obama term was also the one that proved most demonstrably true. It arrived in a deleted tweet from then-game show host Donald Trump: “We should have a revolution in this country.”

The MAGA takeover of the Republican party certainly has the feel of a revolution. While many of the GOP’s goals remain the same as ever—tax cuts for the wealthy, beefing up military spending at the expense of social services, the fantasia of trickle-down economics—there’s a new, brazen quality to what the party is willing to do, or allow to be done, in order to obtain them. But before Trump’s revolution was televised—or, more accurately, tweeted—here are some of the “hysterical” warnings that Democrats and the left sounded about what might lie ahead:

  • The Guardian predicted “a new age of darkness,” in which “racists and bigots everywhere will feel validated, vindicated, and mobilized,” and in which “his threats to curb the free press, punishing news organizations that have criticized him” and “his hint that he would sack America’s generals and replace them with ones more compliant” might come to pass.
  • As The New York Times reported, “Simon Johnson, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, posited that Mr. Trump’s presidency would ‘likely cause the stock market to crash and plunge the world into recession.'”
  • Although he was vague about specifics at the time, Barack Obama warned that the “republic is at risk” if Trump wins the election. (Obama is no longer vague about those specifics, by the way.)
  • Vietnam POW Colonel Tom Moe refashioned the famous “First they came” speech to warn about Trumpism instead of Nazism: “You might not care if Donald Trump says Muslims must register with their government because you are not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump says he’s going to round up all the Hispanic immigrants, because you are not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump says it is okay to rough up Black protesters, because you are not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump wants to suppress journalists, because you are not one. But think about this: If he keeps going, and he actually becomes president, he might just get around to you, and you better hope there is someone left to help you.”

Although red-state residents have enjoyed favored status from the president at every turn—he recently outright dismissed their Democratic-governed counterparts altogether—Trump’s incompetence and dishonesty during the pandemic have doomed a great many of them.

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Some of the above predictions are hyperbolic, at least so far, but the least correct among them was the MIT economist’s apocalyptic financial scenario.

As annoying as the ‘Hillary warned us’ crowd can be—uh, it didn’t exactly take a political scientist to see that Donald Trump was unfit for office—many of the former Democratic presidential candidate’s specific prophecies have proved eerily prescient.

  • “Imagine his advisers afraid to tell him what he doesn’t want to hear, racing against his legendarily short attention span to lay out life-and-death choices too complex to be reduced to a single tweet,” she said close to the 2016 election, foreshadowing Trump’s unwillingness to accept unfavorable news.
  • “A man with a long history of racial discrimination, who traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far reaches of the internet, should never run our government or command our military,” she said, with seeming insight into the rise of QAnon and the untold other conspiracies Trump has fostered.
  • “He’s taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over one of America’s two major political parties,” she said in the same speech, as though she knew that Charlottesville was just around the corner, or that Trump would prove a friend to right-wing extremists.

Considering the track record of our three most recent elections, one would do well to contemplate which of the two parties seems most invested in scaremongering, and which one offers legitimate reasons to be scared.

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