Star Wars fans will get the reference automatically, but for those who need a refresher in the climactic lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader, Kenobi says to the villain: “You can’t win Darth. Strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Then, Vader strikes him down. Later, Obi-Wan Kenobi returns in the form of a “Force ghost” who reminds Vader’s son to “use the force” to ultimately defeat Vader.
No matter what happens on Tuesday night, Donald Trump’s “force ghost” will be whispering in the ears of current and future political candidates to use the “force” of the Trump movement to reshape politics for a generation. His campaign for the White House has already rerouted Florida politics for the 2018 election cycle in profound ways. But more on that in a moment.
Let’s take a look at what happens if Trump prevails on Tuesday night. His movement will gain all of the trappings of power that come with it: Air Force One, the White House, and control over a sprawling federal bureaucracy that will undoubtedly result in a number of prominent Floridians being tapped to fill key roles. Florida politicians on the outside looking in will be forced to adapt or die. Some, perhaps many, will attempt to ingratiate themselves with the Trump Administration in any way possible. The Trumpification of Florida politics will be unavoidable.
But even if Trump loses on Tuesday night, there is one number that should give gloating #NeverTrumpers pause: 1,079,870.
That’s the number of Republicans who cast their ballots for Donald J. Trump in the Republican Presidential Preference Primary in 2016. To put Trump’s number in contrast, that’s 45.7% of total ballots cast, in a race where favorite son Marco Rubio was also on the ballot. In the non-presidential year of 2010, Rick Scott edged Bill McCollum by three percentage points, winning 599,909 total votes, a mere fraction of what Trump was able to pull down in a much higher-profile contest. But even though turnout will shrink in 2018, Trump’s eye-popping vote tally cannot be ignored, for it represents a new reservoir of potential support that can be plundered for votes.
The numbers show that Florida’s Republican voters have an appetite for political outsiders looking to shake up the system. And what should be even more troubling for establishment politicians is the idea that even with a Trump loss on Tuesday, such a defeat will have no power to invalidate the voter sentiment that exists across the state. In such a case, his movement will only grow stronger.
First, there is a real hunger for radical change to shake up what voters perceive to be the broken political process. That’s not going away, especially with Hillary Clinton in the White House. By 2018, assuming she avoids legal troubles stemming from the five ongoing FBI investigations, Florida Republicans will have simmered for a full two years and will almost certainly show up at the polls in force, ready to “kick the bums out.”
Second, Trump himself isn’t going anywhere. The man is a media magnet, no matter what he’s up to, even in the unlikely event that he swears on a stack of Bibles that he’s never running for the White House again. The guy is smart enough to understand that all it takes is a hint, a sly word, a clever tweet, and the glaring lights and media attention he craves will come rushing back to hang on his every word.
Third, Trump supporters will do all they can to preserve their movement, even if it’s no longer moving forward under the Trump banner. Steve Bannon, who chairs Trump’s campaign and runs Breitbart News, has no plans to relinquish his grip on the media empire he controls, nor is he likely to abandon the narratives that helped propel Trump to power. For a fuller read on that topic, check out the New Republic’s article about Bannon’s “long game.”
So, take solace in the fact that the 2016 Election Cycle is almost over. But never forget that anyone can wear a MAGA hat.