Not long ago, the writer Peter Beinart offered an interesting idea about our 45th president: “Someone should write a novel in which he runs and wins as a Democrat.” Underpinning this suggestion, of course, is the highly probable possibility that at one point or another the ideologically ambidextrous Donald Trump contemplated just such a scenario.
It’s a fascinating thought experiment: Could Trump have done to the Democrats in 2016 what he did to the Republicans? Why not? There, too, he would have challenged an overconfident, message-challenged establishment candidate (Hillary Clinton instead of Jeb Bush) and with an even smaller number of other competitors to dispatch. One could easily see him doing as well or better than Bernie Sanders—surprising Clinton in the Iowa caucuses, winning the New Hampshire primaries, and on and on. More to the point, many of Trump’s views—skepticism on trade, sympathetic to Planned Parenthood, opposition to the Iraq war, a focus on blue-collar workers in Rust Belt America—seemed to gel as well, if not better, with blue-state America than red. Think the Democrats wouldn’t tolerate misogynist rhetoric and boorish behavior from their leaders? Well, then you’ve forgotten about Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy and LBJ and the last President Clinton.
There are, as with every what-if scenario, some flaws. Democrats would have deeply resented Trump’s ‘birther’ questioning of Barack Obama’s origins, and would have been highly skeptical of the former reality TV star’s political bona fides even if he hadn’t made a sharp turn to the right as he explored a presidential bid in the run up to the 2012 election. His comments on women and minorities would have exposed him to withering scrutiny among the left’s army of advocacy groups. Liberal donors would likely have banded together to strangle his candidacy in its cradle—if they weren’t laughing him off. But Republican elites tried both of these strategies in 2015, as well, and it manifestly didn’t work. What’s more, Trump did once hold a passel of progressive stances—and he had friendships all over the political map. As Bloomberg’s Josh Green notes, in his Apprentice days, Trump was even wildly popular among minorities. It’s not entirely crazy to imagine him outflanking a coronation-minded Hillary Clinton on the left and blitzing a weak Democratic field like General Sherman marching through Georgia. And besides, it’s fun to think about.
So how, in fact, might history have changed if Trump descended that infamous golden escalator and declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination? And how would it be (depressingly) the same?
Below: a guess at some of key moments from the first six months of the presidency of Donald J. Trump, Democrat:
January 20, 2017
In a star-studded celebrity Inauguration, where attendees include Cher, Madonna, Oprah and Ellen DeGeneres, President Trump offers stirring praise to his predecessors. “We are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent,” he says—and with rhetoric that seem squarely aimed at the Republican leadership, slams “a small group in our nation’s capital that has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.” Republicans criticize the speech for its “angry, bitter tone.” Former President George W. Bush is heard remarking, “That was some weird shit,” a comment that MSNBC’s Chris Matthews calls “outrageous” and “disrespectful.”
January 21, 2017
Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham appear on Fox News to discuss “widespread reports” that the Russian government attempted to interfere in the U.S. election process in favor of President Trump. Media Matters’ David Brock calls the charge “a fringe conspiracy theory advanced by a bunch of sore losers who have now lost three elections in a row.” TIME magazine mocks the charge with a cover showing Vladimir Putin on horseback waving a hammer and sickle and the headline, “THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING: Inside the Next Vast Right-wing Conspiracy.”
January 23, 2017
At a steel plant outside of Pittsburgh, with Secretary of State Joe Biden beaming at his side, President Trump signs an executive order announcing the United States will withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. He wins praise from union leaders and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who commends his former primary opponent “for absolutely doing the right thing to protect the American worker.” Republican leaders slam the administration for an “unfree trade” policy that is a “bum deal” for American workers—but President Trump calls them “heartless bastards who have been outsourcing American jobs to China for decades.” In a clip shared on Twitter by former British MP Louise Mensch, RT host Ed Schultz hails the move as a “political masterstroke.”
January 25, 2017
President Trump signs an executive order to build a LEED-certified wall between the United States and Mexico, complete with solar panels and micro-housing units made of recycled shipping containers. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi tells reporters that while she personally has concerns about the cost of the plan, “the American people have spoken on this subject relatively recently” and that she hopes it will raise wages for struggling farm workers. The New York Daily News editorializes that “the wall may well keep America safer.” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, already a frontrunner to challenge Trump in 2020, denounces the plan as “too expensive, nonsensical, and it just plain won’t work.”
January 27, 2017
President Trump signs an executive order placing a temporary ban on travel from seven predominately Muslin countries. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain appears on Rachel Maddow’s show to point out that the Trump provision is simply built on a list of problematic counterterrorism partners put together during the Obama-Biden administration. Former members of the Obama administration also express qualified support, though a few holdovers gripe anonymously to the press. There are no nationwide demonstrations reported anywhere.
January 28, 2017
As he settles into his new White House digs, President Trump issues a 3 a.m. tweet against Fox News that alarms conservative pundits: “Rightwing media peddling LIES. May be time to rein in.” Trump’s comment, and subsequent reference to the so-called Fairness Doctrine to regulate the airwaves, dominates coverage on Fox News, The Blaze, Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart, but receives only muted criticism from First Amendment advocates. A Harvard Law professor opines in The New York Times, “Maybe it is time to rein in the right.”
January 31, 2017
Tweeting that Judge Merrick Garland was “a low-energy snooze,” President Trump formally nominates Michelle Obama to the United States Supreme Court to replace the late Antonin Scalia. To gasps from White House reporters, a smiling Trump says, “How do you like this? Aren’t you surprised?” He extols the former first lady as “a really tremendous person who calls it like she sees it.” The selection wins universal praise from mainstream media outlets. “I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Rosie O’Donnell gushes on Twitter, “but this is the best decision any president has made since Lincoln.” “I couldn’t be prouder,” says former President Obama. “But I guess this means when Michelle tells me to take out the garbage, it carries a little more weight now.” Gallup registers Trump’s approval rating at 53 percent.
February 2, 2017
Melania Trump is warmly welcomed to the set of The View, where the hosts take turns praising the first lady for her fashion sense, ability to speak multiple languages and “humanizing” effect on the president. “She’s the most glamorous first lady since Jackie Kennedy,” says Joy Behar. Copies of a special edition of People magazine focused on the First Family fly off the shelves at Whole Foods and the Park Slope Co-op.
February 3, 2017
House Republican leaders hold a press conference announcing that they will appoint a special committee to investigate reports of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Calling the exercise a “waste of taxpayer funds,” Democrats at first refuse to staff any of the committee slots, but later relent by giving Virginia Senator Mark Warner what Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe calls the “thankless” task of “humoring” the GOP. Only Fox News covers the press conference live. In one of her first public appearances since her shocking defeat in the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton says that Russian interference is a “serious issue” but doubts Republican investigative efforts are sincere. “I know something about vast right-wing conspiracies, right?” she asks to laughter during a CNN town hall.
February 6, 2017
Senate Republicans are roundly mocked in editorial pages across America for their “all-night” filibuster of Labor secretary nominee Elizabeth Warren. She ultimately is confirmed by a vote of 51-50, with Vice President Sherrod Brown breaking the 50/50 tie in the Senate.
February 26, 2017
At the Academy Awards, Meryl Streep wins applause by denouncing Republicans for their “ongoing war” against women and minorities and for their outright hostility to the new administration. “It is time that we as Americans put aside bitter divides and stand with our president, who is standing up for women and union workers and artists,” she says to applause. “Otherwise all we are left with is football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.” President Trump tweets his approval: “I agree with my good friend Meryl Streep, the GREATEST ACTRESS OF ALL TIME.”
February 28, 2017
President Trump gives a widely acclaimed speech to a joint meeting of Congress, winning praise from pundits on CNN, MSNBC and even Fox, which has been more critical. (“This is the day he became president,” gushes a momentarily impressed Sean Hannity.) At an earlier lunch with Bill Clinton, the former praised the man who defeated his wife and said, “All Americans have an obligation to give him a chance to lead.” Conservative websites note the prolonged looks the former president appears to give to First Lady Melania Trump; one viral GIF created by a Reddit user seems to show Bubba checking out her décolletage.
March 1, 2017
After conferring with Warren Buffet and congressional Democrats, Trump proposes a tax-cut plan that lowers taxes for middle class Americans while raising taxes on the rich. The New York Times editorial board calls the plan “sensible and essential.” Vox writer Matthew Yglesias praises the provision closing the carried-interest loophole as “a long-overdue FU to the hedge-fund crowd,” but criticizes the effect the border-adjustment tax would have on low-wage retail workers as overly regressive.
March 7, 2017
Republican leaders in Congress pass an Obamacare repeal bill, calling on Trump to honor his promises to change the legislation, which he once called a “total disaster.” The president, saying he’s “heard many, many good things” about the law he once derided, says he will not support a repeal plan. First daughter Ivanka Trump, who is said to be considering an informal role as a White House czar on women in the workforce, is said to have played a key role in persuading the president to take a more moderate stance. Conservative leaders, most notably Pat Robertson and Oral Roberts, Jr., lash out at the “devilish” influences at the White House, winning widespread condemnation in the media.
March 9, 2017
Macy’s announces that Ivanka Trump’s jewelry collection will be expanded in all of its stores. The news comes as the Trump hotel chain announces record occupancy with prominent celebrities booking events at Trump hotels to show “solidarity” with his progressive agenda. Richard Painter, a former ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush White House, says it’s not a problem as the president “cannot have a conflict of interest.”
March 14, 2017
Bill O’Reilly teases that he has received copies of President Trump’s tax returns that he will release on air that evening. The stunt is widely derided by media critics in the Washington Post and New York Times, with some suggesting that the Fox News host broke the law. The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert devotes half of an entire episode to an elaborate parody mocking his longtime punching bag for the lengthy windup to what amounts to just one year’s worth of tax data.
March 20, 2017
Trump tweets in defense of Hillary Clinton, who continues to receive bruising criticism from former aides in the press. “HRC ran tough campaign and is good friend. We are making America great again together!” E.J. Dionne, appearing on PBS NewsHour, speculates that he’s just trying to “keep her inside the tent” and fend off a possible primary challenge in 2020.
April 3, 2017
President Trump’s decision to donate his first salary to Planned Parenthood receives scathing treatment from conservative columnists such as Bill Kristol. It is roundly praised on MSNBC, where host Joy Reid favorably compares Trump to Kennedy and FDR – “wealthy men who put the needs of the working man and woman ahead of themselves.” A guerrilla journalist threatens to release a clip of the president walking into an abortion clinic.
April 5, 2017
In his first extended interview since leaving office, President Obama offers words of support for his successor. “He’s gone through a tough learning curve, and he’s handling it well,” Obama says. He adds that he was looking forward to watching his wife get sworn in as the new associate justice of the Supreme Court, acknowledging that Trump used “all of the skills he learned in ‘The Art of the Deal’ to persuade Michelle to take the job.” SCOTUSblog speculates that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will step down at the end of the current Supreme Court term, and Emily’s List quietly begins circulating the names of acceptable replacements.
April 8, 2017
In a pre-Easter visit at the Vatican, Pope Francis greets President and Mrs. Trump with a broad smile and extends the scheduled meeting by 30 minutes. A Vatican spokesman later reports that the Holy Father was heartened by Trump’s expressed commitment to listen carefully to his advisors and global leaders on the “essential duty” of combating climate change. In remarks to reporters later that day, the president seems to undercut this by saying he’s worried about the effect the Paris accord could have on the ‘Better Deal’ jobs program he is developing with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “I could go either way, frankly,” he says.
April 15, 2017
Ending a week of “will he or won’t he” speculation, and numerous visits to the White House from Hollywood celebrities, President Trump announces that the United States will stay in the Paris accord. He cites “very interesting conversations” with Presidents Obama, Clinton, Pope Francis and Leonardo DiCaprio in making his decision.
April 29, 2017
President Trump receives a standing ovation at the White House Correspondents Dinner, even as conservative publications and outlets announce boycott the event to protest the administration’s refusal to answer questions on the Russia scandal. In remarks that draw bipartisan praise, WHCA President Jeff Mason criticizes the White House for excluding certain conservative websites from its daily briefings.
May 18, 2017
A study by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy is released on media coverage of President Trump’s first 100 days. The study finds that coverage of the Trump administration was largely positive on most networks, but overwhelmingly negative on one network, Fox, by a margin of 85-15 percent.
May 30, 2017
Comedian Kathy Griffin makes waves in a stunt that goes viral, by having herself delivered to the White House by Federal Express in a gift box addressed to President and Mrs. Trump. “I wanted to think of a dramatic way to express my affection and support for the new first couple who have done so much for reproductive rights and the rights of gay Americans since taking office,” she tells Entertainment Tonight.
June 2, 2017
Blaming “alleged” conservative news outlets for causing the GOP’s third consecutive loss for the White House by supporting Republican “establishment candidates,” a consortium of billionaires launch plans for a new cable network to more vigorously challenge Trump.
June 9, 2017
On a panel at the former Republican nominee’s annual summit in Park City, Utah, Mitt Romney and “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance discuss the GOP’s problems attracting white working-class voters, who went overwhelmingly for Trump in November. They announce they are writing a book together on the subject. Liberal pundits lambaste Romney on Twitter, with New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait scoffing, “Mitt ‘Bain Capital’ Romney is going to figure out how to win over the WWC? LOL.”
June 27, 2017
A study by the Media Research Center faults the major media networks for ignoring coverage of the Russia investigation. The report singles out CNN for devoting only 2 percent of its coverage of the administration to reports of Russian collusion.
June 30, 2017
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi sidesteps a flurry of criticism the president has received for a tweet about MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski’s personal appearance. Acknowledging that the comments were “in poor taste,” Pelosi adds, “Look at our party’s agenda. It’s about empowering women. And the president supports that 100 percent.”
July 6, 2017
President Trump holds his first one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Democrats praise the president for “trying to reset the reset” in U.S.-Russian relations after some tense years under Obama. Republicans, led by McCain and Graham, urge Trump to confront Putin over Russia’s alleged interference in the elections. The 2016 Republican nominee, Jeb Bush, declines to comment. “I’m just trying to get the Marlins in fighting shape for next year,” he says, stroking a lengthy beard.