This summer doesn't mark only the return of family get-togethers and concerts. Starting this month, Donald Trump will also be back in public circulation, headlining a series of grievance-filled summer MAGA rallies. That's fantastic news for anxious Democrats.
Trump's return to the political stage gives Democrats a rare opportunity to set aside the disagreements that come from governing just as Biden's honeymoon period is ending.
The return of Trump's hourslong, rambling rallies is an opportunity to remind the American people that Republican craziness hasn't dialed down a notch since his defeat last year and to remind Democrats that they have reason to focus on their shared values rather than their increasingly bitter Senate fights.
By now, most Americans know to expect plenty of disinformation and far-right red meat from Trump rallies. But they have yet to see how a humiliating electoral loss and Trump's delusional claim that he's about to be reinstated as president any day now mix with tried-and-true Trump classics like spreading election disinformation and whining about "cancel culture."
After just one Trump rally, Democrats will have plenty of sound bites and offensive content to make the case that Trump has learned nothing during his time out of office surrounded by yes men at Mar-a-Lago. And while Trump's unhinged claims to be the president of the United States in exile may energize MAGA fundamentalists, they reaffirm to independents and moderates who rejected Trump that he has, if anything, grown more detached from reality in defeat.
The disagreements within the Democratic Party look marginal when compared to a former president's openly fanning his supporters' most extreme conspiracy theories. And however frustrating Democratic policy fights feel to progressive activists who have so far failed to pass a $15-an-hour minimum wage or abolish the Senate filibuster, or however worrisome they are for moderates who think President Joe Biden is going too far left with his massive spending plans, they provide none of the over-the-top invective Washington journalists grew addicted to over four years of Trump rallies. Trump's rhetoric will bury any coverage of Democratic disharmony.
Indeed, Trump's return to the political stage gives Democrats a rare opportunity to set aside the disagreements that come from governing just as Biden's honeymoon period is ending. Despite growing impatience among progressives at the obstructionist tactics displayed by Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Trump's summer tour will be a bracing reminder that things could be far worse.
Meanwhile, Trump will offer the broad coalition of American voters a stark reminder of why they joined together to oust him from power. They'll get to see a Trump with nothing to lose, and some Republicans are already terrified that his traveling circus could hijack attempts to advance a unified and coherent party agenda heading into the 2022 midterms.
Of course, Republican political considerations don't bother Trump in the slightest. Just as the party was finding its footing in a Democratic Washington, Trump ignited a firestorm by demanding that the GOP replace Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky as minority leader. He's also been a driving force behind the ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming from party leadership last month.
Trump-skeptical Republicans are likely to face similar forces during the primaries, when Trump will turn his rallies into powerful get-out-the-vote mobilization efforts. One Republican victim of the pro-Trump march, former Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia, points to his own blue-tinged state as a case in point. "If Trump hosts a rally in Virginia, does [Republican gubernatorial nominee] Glenn Youngkin show up?" For GOP candidates now dependent on Trump's money-printing outrage machine, Trump's rallies could serve as forced baptisms into the MAGA movement.
Those rallies may finish the job of forcing an assimilate-or-die choice on 2022 Republican candidates, but that extremism is also having a measurable impact on how voters outside the MAGA bubble perceive the Republican Party. Trump may dominate 2024 presidential polls conducted among the party faithful, but he left office with an approval rating of just 40 percent, one of the lowest numbers for an outgoing president in history. Since then, Trump has cratered even further, to 32 percent approval in late April.
At the same time, Democrats have an opportunity to take advantage of the schism between hard-core Republicans who still view Trump as the legitimate president and moderates who are so disgusted with Trumpism that they recently launched a fresh attempt to create a Trump-free GOP.
If Democrats want to capitalize on the craziness to come at these rallies, however, they'll need to do more than offer a dry list of Biden policy victories. They'll need to match Trump's energy while rejecting his message. That means reminding voters that the country is only now beginning to dig out from Trump's catastrophic mishandling of Covid-19 and its economic recession.
Biden's victory over Trump was about more than the American people's choosing a competing policy vision. Biden's tone, his way of treating people, his entire personality are a rejection of Trump's bluster-and-bravado approach to politics. For the millions of Americans eager to put Trump in the past and focus on rebuilding our battered country, a return to rallies will only solidify their distaste for the former president.