As the NY Times notes today, "Democrats marked a decisive turn in their campaign against Donald J. Trump this week, moving to recast the 2016 not as a conventional battle between left and right but as a national emergency that requires voters of all stripes to band together against a singularly menacing candidate.... [T]hey used their convention to portray Mr. Trump as a dangerously unstable figure and a friend of foreign despots like Vladimir V. Putin of Russia .... [and] suggested Mr. Trump might have authoritarian impulses of his own."
In my title for this blogpost, I put the word "strategy" in scare quotes because there's something quaint about calling it merely a "strategy" to point out something so important that appears so clearly to be true.
However, the advantages that I am hoping the "strategy" will have include the following:
1) It is widely recognized as true. Thus, the article swiftly pivots to quoting David Boaz, the Executive Vice President of the libertarian Cato Institute - hardly a hotbed of pro-Democratic or pro-Hillary sentiment. He says, of the critique of Trump: "I really don't think that's too over the top. We have one candidate who's not even pretending - he is promising to be a one-man ruler."
Many other conservative and/or Republican commentators, including both politicians and bloggers, journalists, etc., have been saying the same thing for months. The critique is not something the Democratic convention-planners cooked up in late-night strategy sessions. There has been a growing tidal wave of people of many different viewpoints coming to realize that it is true, and saying so.
2) Like all good campaign "strategies," it leverages the other candidate's political strengths against him. So much of what Trump does clearly fits the narrative that he will have trouble trying to disconfirm it without neutering himself. Plus, he may just go along decisively confirming it (as with his mid-Democratic convention call for Russian espionage against the United States government).
3) It puts pressure on the many people who are still backing Trump out of cynicism, opportunism, or convenience (i.e., who are not themselves committed authoritarians). One might think that the likes of a Mitch McConnell or a Paul Ryan wouldn't have to worry about having backed Trump if he loses the election. After all, he presumably can't destroy our way of life and system of government as a private citizen. So the fact that they supported something terrible, despite (I think) knowing, albeit perhaps not caring, about how terrible it is, would not have been directly proven to the general public. But the thing is this. Trump is going to stay in the news for a while after the election, even if he loses, and there is a good chance that he will act in an increasingly unhinged fashion. Think of Sarah Palin after the 2008 election. She remained a gigantic news story for several years afterwards, during which time she increasingly discredited herself and thereby shamed people who had been willing to support her for Vice President. Trump will be an even bigger story than she was, although not necessarily for longer. And even beyond growing increasingly verbally and behaviorally unhinged (if that's possible), he might also conceivably experience a humiliating financial crackup. So people who have backed Trump, even if they did it while holding their noses a bit, face the risk of having this thrown in their faces, to their political detriment, for several years at least.
Obviously, this is not an issue for Ted Cruz. So, if he were to run (or when he runs) in 2020, then outside of the Trump bitter-enders (who might still be important in the Republican primaries), he would be viewed as free of this particular taint. If he were to lose the general election, it would be for other reasons. But many other Republicans should know today that, even if Trump loses, they face the risk of being deeply tainted.
Then again, all this assumes that the "strategy" works, at least in the sense that (whether by reason of it or not) Trump loses the election. That in turn presupposes that enough voters both object to authoritarianism, and can recognize it as such despite all of the noise.