He's a racist! He's a demagogue! He's authoritarian! His presidency could deliver a fatal blow to the Constitution!
This is all true of Donald Trump. The problem is, Democrats have been saying it's true of nearly every prominent Republican for the past 30 years.
Perhaps most famously and recently, the George W. Bush administration sent the left into fits of hystrionics. At one point, more than half of Democrats believed that Bush knew about 9/11 in advance. But today, warnings that Dick Cheney's obsession with secrecy, Bush's firings of U.S. attorneys, and the CIA torture program would put an end to American democracy look laughably quaint. President Obama's abuses of executive power, from the secret kill list to the legislation-rewriting executive orders, go well beyond anything Bush could have dreamed up.
But the "Republicans as racists" trope is the one that really persists. The 2012 headline "Romney Accused of Racism Following NAACP Speech" is a good representative example of the genre. It's one of those things that is inevitable: like summer rain, sunsets, taxes, and left-wing virtue signaling. You don't even have to read the article.
This isn't new. As National Review's Jonah Goldberg points out, "In 1944, Franklin Roosevelt told the country that if Republicans were returned to power, 'even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of fascism here at home.' The press nodded along." The spirit of fascism. Just that.
Don't get me wrong. Of course, in politics, all sides are guilty of exaggerated claims and unfair attacks. But there's a particular tendency on the left to portray opponents as not just wrong but evil, and in a unique way. It's an offshoot of Krauthammer's Second Law that "conservatives think liberals are misguided; liberals think conservatives are evil." This bizarre tic explains, or perhaps is explained by, the finding that conservatives understand liberal positions better than liberals understand conservative positions.
But here's the key point in this Clinton vs. Trump matchup: Democrats' long history of crying wolf poses a unique problem in this cycle. Several distinguished speakers at the Democratic National Convention maintained that this election is "not about left or right," but about something more fundamental, because Trump reflects something uniquely corrosive to American democracy. As a #NeverTrump conservative, I fully agree with them! But too many liberals have been saying exactly this sort of thing about all sorts of other Republicans for an awfully long time. The words have lost their sting.
If your movement — even if it's often only the fringes of your movement — calls George W. Bush a racist, claims that Mitt Romney is a "severe danger," and assails John McCain as an "unstable, hot-headed liar" who is "unfit to be president," is it any wonder that many Americans are skeptical when you warn of the dangers of Trump? Why should we trust you this time? You've cried wolf too many times before.