Republished with permission from Steve Schmidt.
The summer of 2023 is over.
That means two things. The NFL season is about to start, and so is the presidential political season for real. The New Hampshire primary, and the soon to follow South Carolina primary are less than six months away.
Soon, we will know who the two candidates are who will face off to be the next president of the United States.
Currently, the conventional wisdom in America is that it will be a rematch between the overwhelming Republican front-runner, Donald Trump and the incumbent President Joe Biden. There was a recent poll released by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News. What it says, overwhelmingly, across the board, is that the American people do not want this rematch.
Now, put aside your partisanship for a second. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a hardcore MAGA, or a hardcore anti-MAGA, like myself. Just look at the poll in isolation. The two parties together are producing choices that the overwhelming majority of the American people don’t want. What will they do about that?
The first dynamic of the fall campaign that’s going to start to come into view is whether No Labels is for real or not. Do they have any money or not? Do they have the $100 million cash available to start securing ballot access in all 50 states? Do they intend to nominate and run through some type of secret process a ticket that will offer a third choice across all 50 states with two prominent people on it? Don’t the American people deserve some transparency around their mission, around their goals? Shouldn’t it be clear what it is they intend to do?
The American political system is under tremendous strain because so much of it isn’t on the level. So much of it takes place in the shadows, in the dark. And so much of it is based on deception. Based on making us, the American people, submit to something that you can see with your own eyes is obviously not true.
Let’s turn back the clock a bit. Let’s look at this picture. These are the pictures from the inaugurations of Donald Trump and Barack Obama. Look at the picture associated with President Obama’s. And now look at the picture associated with Donald Trump’s. Which crowd is bigger? Obviously, it was President Obama’s. Now let’s listen to Sean Spicer assert that what is required of a Trump supporter is to believe that truth is what Donald Trump says it is. Let’s watch again, the first moments of the Trump presidency open with an assertion that supporters must submit. They must submit to whatever it is that the leader says is true.
Photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall. This was the first time in our nation’s history that floor coverings have been used to protect the grass in the mall that had the effect of highlighting any areas where people were not standing.
Well in years past, the grass eliminated this visual. This is also the first time that fencing and magnetometers went as far back on the mall, preventing hundreds of thousands of people from being able to access them all as quickly as they had in inaugurations past.
Inaccurate numbers involving crowd size were also tweeted. No one had numbers because the National Park Service, which controls the National Mall, does not put any out. This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration period, both in person and around the globe. Even the New York Times printed a photo of a photograph showing that a misrepresentation of the crowd and the original tweet in their paper would show the full extent of the support, depth in crowd and intensity that existed. These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the [Obama’s] inauguration are shameful and wrong.
This is a hallmark of every authoritarian system that there’s ever been. All democracies are built on a foundation of truth. While all totalitarian systems and autocratic aspirants build their ambitions on a mountain of lies—and all of those lies are sustained by the ability to impose truth—regardless of whether it’s real or not.
Some of those people submit, for ambition’s sake, some for cynicism’s sake, some out of fear. That’s the nature of collaboration. It’s why people get in line. It’s why so very few Republicans like Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney were tough enough, strong enough, committed enough, to resist, to stay out of the line. Because the truth of the matter is that most people get in line. And so all through the fall, the Washington, DC-centered media, and the Washington, DC- based politicians will say things to the American people, and assert things that are not real in the lives of the American people.
This tension will grow and grow and grow over the course of the fall. And over the course of the fall, because the choice that the people don’t want, will draw closer throughout it, it will increase the turbulence, the volatility within the system. What this election is about is very simple. It is about the continuation of American society, about the continuing of the American way of life.
The American system is built on the ability of the American people to choose who will lead them. Candidates can compete, they offer their visions, and then the people decide. It’s as simple as that. And what it requires is the goodwill of every competitor for political power to recognize that when they run for office, there will be one of two possible outcomes. They will either be elected, or they will be rejected. It’s not an indictment of their character. It’s simply a reflection of the choice of the people who decide whether it be at a local, county, state, or national level. This is core to American life.
And this is what Donald Trump shattered. It’s why this Proud Boy thug was sentenced to 22 years in prison—because he attacked the peaceful transition of power set in motion by a profound act of humility, by America’s founding father George Washington.
Every day, as the fall campaign moves forward, the American people will be fed a narrative, a narrative from Donald Trump, which is based upon a bundle of thousands of lies, a narrative from the Biden campaign, a narrative from the national media about what the election is about, about how the economy is doing. What most of those narratives have in common is how detached they are from the lives of the ordinary people who populate this gigantic country, from coast to coast, and everywhere in between. And it’s this great unsettlement at hand that is going to drive a lot of American politics in the months ahead.
Over and over again, the American people can’t seem to get their voices through to the listening ears of the most powerful people in the country. Over and over again, working Americans, whether it be a UPS driver, or members of the UAW or the Screen Actors Guild or Writers Guild of America, are trying to say that we need to have a discussion about fairness in American society. We need to address what is staring at us right in the face.
What this country needs is an era of renewal and reform and a vision that recreates the American Dream and brings back together the core of American society into a united belief about the central ideas that brought the country into existence. Instead, what we see are liars and cheap demagogues like Vivek Ramaswamy, accused criminals like Donald Trump, cynics like Mike Pence, and the list goes on. But in the end, the American people are the captains of our fate, not our politicians.
The American people will decide if they want those politicians to vandalize our way of life. It is solely and wholly at the discretion of the American people. That’s what the election is about. We’re going to decide if elections are how we assign political power in America. If we choose the people who do not believe in elections, as the mechanism by which political power is granted, then we will have had our last election.
Steve Schmidt is a political analyst for MSNBC and NBC News. He served as a political strategist for George W. Bush and the John McCain presidential campaign. Schmidt is a founder of The Lincoln Project, a group founded to campaign against former President Trump. It became the most financially successful Super-PAC in American history, raising almost $100 million to campaign against Trump's failed 2020 re-election bid. He left the group in 2021.