Friday, May 26, 2017

Being anti-Trump is not enough.

The morning onslaught of emails summarizing the starting point for the day, letting me know that this is day 126 of the Trump presidency. Politico. Axios. The Daily. The Hive. RedState. ZeroHedge. Sean Hannity (just to see who the Clintons killed recently). The breathless breaking news tweets, podcasts and texts. The daily wraps making sure we did not miss a thing, lest we were distracted by work.

The Trump presidency has become the most festering, counterproductive, time sink since the invention of Facebook, when the notion of a time sink burst into our vocabulary.

Two weeks ago, conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, suggesting that the political battleground has shifted from those who are anti-Trump versus those who are pro-Trump, to those who are anti-Trump versus those who are anti-anti-Trump. Faced with a president who is proving objectionable or incompetent to many in his own party, Republicans are increasingly motivated as much by the rage and antics of Democrats as anything else. As if to make Sykes' point, the most recent Quinnipiac Poll suggests that Republican approval of Donald Trump is now lower than their disapproval of Democrats in Congress.

For a few months, from election day on past the inauguration, where Donald Trump pronounced his dark vision of the nation from the presidential pulpit, the furious reaction to what appeared to be the rise of the authoritarian right was warranted. But the influence of Steve Bannon and the threat of the alt-right appear to have waned, as the challenges of governing have overwhelmed the competence of a President whose political skills revolved around hyperbolic rhetoric and conspiracy mongering, and whose real world management skills were limited to running a tightly controlled family business.

After those furious first few months, the Trump fever has broken. Fears that democratic institutions might not be up to the task have proven to be ill-founded. The federal judiciary has played its role as proscribed, and the media has refused to back down from the name calling and derision from the Oval Office. Perhaps Donald Trump's greatest misjudgment was underestimating Rod Rosenstein, who has now firmly headed Trump's presidency down a new path.

The Trump presidency is now lapsing into something that may be less satisfying for Democrats to contend with: conservative government. MSNBC talk show host and former conservative member of Congress Joe Scarborough may rail on about the Republican Party having been taken over by a long-time Democrat, but the infrastructure of the Trump administration is deeply conservative, and fully prepared to do its best to support the agenda of Republican majorities in Congress. It is what political parties get to do when they win elections; they get to pass laws.

According to CBS News Nation Tracker polling, public attitudes toward the idea of Democrats winning back the House of Representatives next year has been highly ambivalent. Half of those polled think that a Democrat Congress would provide a needed check on President Trump, while half suggested it would simply lead to more gridlock or bad policies in Congress.

This is a devastating message to which Democrats should be paying close attention. Driven by anti-Trump rage, party activists are rapidly--and deliberately--undermining their party's ability to appeal to the political center. Their rage against Trump is accompanied by continuing bitterness over Bill and Hillary Clinton's control over the Democratic National Committee that rigged the system in favor of Hillary's nomination.

Penned in by activists on the left, Democrat leaders seem determined to ignore the yawning chasm of voters alienated both by Trump, and his sycophants in Congress, and the activist left. Rather than reaching out to broaden a prospective Democratic coalition, the Democrats are becoming a less-tolerant, narrower political party. Every time Chuck Schumer stands in front of a microphone to vilify this or that Trumpian outrage, he plays into the dynamic that Sykes described. Every time Nancy Pelosi demands that Sean Spicer or some other Trump factotum resign for this or that stupid statement, she devalues her own currency and diminishes her appeal beyond the Democratic Party base as aspiring Speaker of the House.

Just as Democrats are turning their back on the political center, Donald Trump seems to be making a concerted effort to alienate his own devoted followers and the faith they have invested in him. Trump's followers may have clamored for him to repeal Obamacare, but it remains to be seen if their faith in him will endure in the event that the House healthcare plan makes its way into law and millions of those supporters lose their health insurance, or take a loved one to the hospital only to find that their new Trumpcare insurance policies no longer provide hospitalization or emergency coverage. 

The problem that Democrats face is that even if Donald Trump turns his back on his promise to be the president for the working class and rural America, and instead delivers everything that the Republican donor class could have hoped for, that will not necessarily inure to the benefit of the Democratic Party. Donald Trump violating the trust that working class and rural Americans invested in him will not by extension ameliorate the distrust that those Americans feel toward Democrats. 

It may be that Senate Republicans will save Trump from himself. If they balk at Trump's healthcare plans and his tax plans and his budget cuts, Trump's dedicated voters may never know how close they came to seeing things get much worse for them than they already are. But who is going to save Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi? As the threat to democratic institutions fade, and the urgency of the morning emails and tweetstorms subside, when are Democratic leaders going to pull back from all-Trump-all-the-time, and contemplate how they plan to reach out and broaden the Democratic Party into a viable majority coalition.

The 2018 mid-term election may be on everybody's minds, but it is the 2020 election that looms largest. Not the presidential election, but rather the governors and state legislature races that will determine the next round of decennial redistricting, and, in their wake, the landscape of our politics for the ensuing decade. Anti-Trump fever, which began as a tremendous motivating moment for Democrats, has become a trap. Far too many remain consumed with matters that now should be left to Robert Mueller, while far too few seem focused on the future of the Democrat agenda, message and coalition. That is the urgent task at hand if Democrats want to win what Republicans now have: majorities in Congress and the ability to pass laws.

As it stands today--as Charlie Sykes has warned--every time Chuck Schumer feels that irresistible draw to a microphone to launch one more attack on Donald Trump, he is not doing his party any favors. Instead, he is playing into the anti-anti-Trump narrative and increasing the likelihood that Republicans will once again win the decennial restricting battles, and Donald Trump will be a two-term president.

Read it at the HuffPost.

Follow David Paul on Twitter @dpaul.
Artwork by Jay Duret. Check out his political cartooning at www.jayduret.com. Follow him on Twitter @jayduret or Instagram at @joefaces.

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