The GOP’s Stunning “Scorched Earth” Strategy in 2020

Photo by Dawn Armfield on Unsplash

Something struck me yesterday, a thought that I couldn’t quite shake off. I’ve been reading and watching pundits across the big media landscape puzzling over recent actions of the President and the GOP-led Senate, who seem to be doing everything in their power to make matters worse, rather than better. In an election year. Why? What is going on?

I don’t really need to describe in detail how the GOP is making matters worse, rather than better. Briefly: We presently have a deadly pandemic spiraling out of control, a massive wave of unemployment, a coming surge in foreclosures and evictions, and widespread protests across the nation. In response, we have seen the complete failure of the Trump administration to confront the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and its associated economic impacts. Not only has their response led to a dramatically higher death toll, but it has dealt heavy blows to the economy that the GOP has done little to backstop. This past week we have seen bolstered unemployment benefits expire without any serious action on the part of the GOP-controlled Senate. Protections against foreclosure and evictions are also expiring, and tens of millions of Americans may soon find themselves homeless. Meanwhile, in the name of law and order, Trump has militarized the Department of Homeland Security and unleashed them on protesters, inflaming tensions and causing more protests and further decay of law and order.

Many friends have told me “don’t attribute to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence.” It is a nice thought, but what if my friends are being overly generous in attributing these failures to the idiocy of the GOP, falling into the trap of underestimating their opponent? Everyone likes to think they’re smart, and their enemies are stupid, but this is dangerous.

Of course, there are quite a few who do suspect that Trump & Co. is up to something more devious. We have already seen numerous theories about how Trump must be laying the groundwork to establish an authoritarian fascist state. But, what if the notion of a Trump fascist takeover is just a ruse? What if that is what Trump wants us to think? He has certainly been sending all the right signals, such as recently tweeting about postponing elections in the US. And he hasn’t come out to make a statement that categorically denies these accusations. Is this deliberate? Is he leading us on? I think so.

I have another, simpler idea: The GOP has given up on winning the presidency in November, and is resorting to a “scorched Earth” strategy. (Scorched Earth usually refers to a military tactic in which an army destroys everything that an opposing army could find useful, such as supplies, food, medicine, weaponry, tools, etc.. Russia has famously defeated invasions from Sweden, France, and Germany by employing scorched Earth tactics.)

It is simple, the GOP are going to hand over the presidency with the country in a terrible mess, leaving the next administration with an awful disaster that will hamstring the next president’s ability to do anything beyond desperate measures to cope with a mountain of crises. The next president will be so completely overwhelmed by the mess that the GOP is presently cooking up, that there will be no room for the new administration to advance any political agenda whatsoever. The outgoing administration is going to poison the well, and trash the house before they turn over the keys to the new occupant.

In other words, the GOP is fighting the long game. Like a sacrifice in the game of chess, they aim to put themselves in a better long-term position by abandoning hope to keep the presidency for the next term, and in doing so they are free to begin undermining the next administration at an early stage. They can also develop a strategy for 2022 and 2024 that will put the GOP in an even stronger position, after the predictable failures of the next president.

Before closing, I should say that there is no downside to assuming that this is true. And it is anyways better for everyone to start thinking more about the long game, rather than being lost in the obsession over the 2020 election alone. Clearly, winning in 2020 is no panacea.




Expat American father, husband, scientist, professor, philosopher, and artist. Non-partisan gadfly speaking truth to power.

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John Hernlund

John Hernlund

Expat American father, husband, scientist, professor, philosopher, and artist. Non-partisan gadfly speaking truth to power.

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