Impeachments, intraparty warfare, and a run on antidepressants: Democrats contemplate their ultimate nightmare scenario of Trump winning a 2nd term

  • Democrats don't want to discuss the prospect of President Donald Trump winning a second term.
  • They were left blindsided and frazzled when Trump won the first time. They say they'll be in the same spot if the president defies the polls for another upset victory.
  • "Mentally, emotionally, the Democrats could not deal with that," said James Carville, a veteran Democratic strategist who managed Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign.
  • Political insiders on both sides of the aisle said they expect an unprecedented reckoning within the Democratic Party if Trump wins again — including brawls over the party's direction and pressure for new leaders on Capitol Hill.
  • "I honestly think that [Democrats] are going to implode," Sean Spicer, a longtime GOP operative who served as Trump's first White House press secretary, said of the prospects if Trump wins.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Democrats are not at all ready for what happens if President Donald Trump wins a second term. 

They admit to being blindsided in 2016 when the New York businessman shocked the world with his upset victory over Hillary Clinton. And they acknowledge that they'd be largely in the same place again —  thoroughly frazzled, enraged, and stuck doing yet more soul-searching — should Trump beat Joe Biden in 2020.

Party luminaries interviewed for this story said they were nowhere near ready to start talking about the kinds of legislative compromises they could see being cut with a two-term President Trump. 

They also don't want to talk about who'd emerge from defeat as the party's de facto leader. And they are especially wary of questions about whether they'd consider pulling the trigger again on impeachment proceedings if Democrats still held their House majority and thought Trump deserved it.

"There's no plan," said James Carville, a veteran Democratic strategist who managed Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign "I don't think [Franklin] Roosevelt had a plan for losing the war."

There's a reason Democrats want to see the glass as half full. While they got burned four years ago, they have remained cautiously optimistic about their shot at retaking the White House this go around. 

Democrats look back at the 2018 midterms when they won the House in a blue wave election as a strong sign of what's to come this November. And they are increasingly bullish headed into Tuesday as the party coalesces around Biden and as Trump has come under fire for his chaotic governing style amid a global coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 230,000 Americans. 

Indeed, Biden currently carries a 6.5-point lead over Trump in an average of national polling data. 

Those kinds of data points are why Washington insiders have been preparing for a Biden presidency. Lobbyists are racing to figure out what a new Democratic administration would look like. Media outlets are already drafting lists of likely Cabinet picks. Top Democrats in Congress say they too are feeling good about their chances while sizing up the opportunities in the event they again hold the White House and all the powerful governing levers that come with it. 

"I feel very confident that Joe Biden will be elected President on Tuesday," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters last week. "On January 20th, he will be inaugurated President of the United States. So, while we don't want to be overconfident or assume anything, we have to be ready for how we're going to go down a different path."

But Trump has proven he can defy polls and the Washington establishment crowd. There's also a possibility that he wins after a contested election that's decided in court — an outcome he's predicted himself and one reason he pushed for getting Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett confirmed prior to the election. 

No plan B

Democrats don't like to talk much publicly about the prospect that Trump could win a second term. That's pretty much a no-no in politics — at least beyond some gallows humor about moving to Canada or investing money in the marijuana industry.

"Mentally, emotionally, the Democrats could not deal with that," Carville said. "If I was a Wall Street guy, I'd start a hedge fund that specializes in anti-depression."

Behind the scenes, Democrats say there isn't much in the way of actual planning should the Republican president emerge with another four years to keep molding the country with his conservative vision. 

House Democratic leadership during their regular caucus calls hasn't mapped out to rank-and-file lawmakers what its strategy would be if Trump wins the election, according to Virginia Rep. Don Beyer. 

Pressed to size up would happen if Trump is the one celebrating on Inauguration Day 2021, Democrats admit they would likely govern like they did over the last two years since they won control of the House. They'd pass bills on issues like climate change, voting rights, and gun control that have majority support in their chamber and then send them over to what presumably would be a GOP-controlled Senate, where legislative gridlock awaits. 

"It would be a very conflicted, unhappy time," said Beyer, a three-term lawmaker who also predicted his party would spend its time "trying to restrain the excesses of Trump."

Dems will 'implode' if Trump wins

There are some hard political realities awaiting Democrats in the event of a Trump win.

Operatives on both sides of the aisle said they'd expect an unprecedented reckoning within the Democratic Party. They just built a fragile alliance behind Biden, based largely on the fact that they want Trump out of the White House. If that doesn't happen expect progressives to make an even stronger play to capture the soul of the party.

Depending on how the election plays out, Democrats could potentially be forced to admit that their loss in 2016 wasn't a one-off due to Clinton's campaign flaws, Russian election interference, or apathy from spurned progressives. 

A Biden loss would also spur calls for leadership changes in the top brass of the Democratic Party. There could be a revolt among congressional Democrats — including those who pushed for a more progressive House speaker than Pelosi, who is the first woman ever to hold such a high-ranking position in US history. 

There would also almost certainly be demands for leadership changes at the Democratic National Committee, where Tom Perez has been in command since 2017. And in the absence of a presidential nominee, it's unclear who the party's standard bearer would become as Democrats strategized for their next shot at the White House in 2024. 

"I honestly think that [Democrats] are going to implode" should Trump win, said Sean Spicer, a longtime GOP operative who served as the president's controversial first White House press secretary. 

"It would blow their minds," Spicer added. "They honestly can't believe that there are people in America that are still supporting Trump." 

So what could Dems do? 

Democrats' playbook for a Trump second term would depend almost entirely on which party controls Congress in January. 

Republican political operatives say they think a re-elected Trump comes with a clear mandate and possibly even a Senate majority that can keep backing him up on judicial nominations. That power dynamic would also serve as a backstop against any House Democrats' oversight attempts — or even against possible future impeachment efforts if they can't win back control of the House. 

A status quo scenario where Democrats still hold the House and the GOP maintains its grip on the Senate probably means more of the same gridlock on Capitol Hill. 

"I don't think there's a lot of cards to play," said Julian Epstein, who served as counsel for the House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. 

Epstein said he thinks the Democratic playbook in a Trump second term scenario would include even more oversight on the GOP administration. 

He also anticipates a media offensive. "I think it's just sort of relentless pressure and exposure on the sort of corrupt nature of the administration, the Trump administration and just sort of con-job that they're doing to the middle class," Epstein said. 

But if Trump wins while Democrats manage in 2020 to seize control of the Senate, then the president's rivals would have far more leeway to sway a Trump administration. 

Some Democrats envision a possible path to another impeachment. "The scenario where something would actually happen is Trump wins but we take the House and Senate," one Democratic operative told Insider. "They'll impeach and convict."

Of course, removing the president from office using articles of impeachment would remain a longshot given the requirement that a guilty conviction requires a two-thirds majority vote. That'd mean a substantial number of Senate Republicans would need to vote in favor of making Trump the first president in US history to lose his job through impeachment. In addition, Democrats would also be forced in this scenario to consider the political consequences of elevating Vice President Mike Pence to the White House, which would give him the power of incumbency in a 2024 general election.

There could be policy breakthroughs in other areas. Trump would likely be forced to nominate more moderate executive branch officials and judges to get Democratic support for confirmation should he be facing a Senate run by his rivals. Divided government might mean there are even more chances of success at getting compromise laws signed by a president who no longer would need to worry about his own reelection chances. 

"He's about Donald Trump," Beyer said. "If you can put legislation on his desk that he sees as good for him … I think he'd sign it." 

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