After a year and a half of unrelieved hatred and hyperbole directed at Donald Trump, following his shocking victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, NBC News enjoyed a brief moment of clarity. Chuck Todd, one of its leading reporters and host of its Sunday morning “Meet the Press” program, stated the simple fact that Democrats have been desperately trying to ignore: “Trump is winning and the Democrats right now are reeling.”
Todd noted that “the announced retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy” has created a historic opportunity for this president. “Mr. Trump is about to shape the court for a generation by choosing a possible tie-breaking conservative justice, and he’s already filled the lower courts with like-minded conservatives.”
The NBC reporter, who has been a constant critic of Trump, then listed the president’s other political achievements which have enabled him to discredit his critics in the media in the eyes of his supporters and a steadily larger percentage of independent voters who approve of his policies and doubt the honesty of his accusers.
“How about the Republican party? The president’s approval rating among Republicans is around 90 percent. Elected Republicans fear criticizing him,” Todd noted.
REVERSING THE MEANING OF “FAKE NEWS”
“How about fake news?” Todd asked. “Mr. Trump has turned that phrase, which initially referred to the phony Russian-generated stories designed to support his campaign in 2016, into an applause line now to discredit responsible reporting showcasing his misdeeds.
“If reporters faithfully fact check the president’s serial misstatements, they risk being considered biased. If they don’t, misstatements gain traction. Either way, Mr. Trump wins,” Todd concluded.
Todd also credited Trump and his supporters for discrediting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. “The president has succeeded in convincing millions that the investigation is biased, despite trafficking only in innuendo and not providing evidence,” ignoring the principle that it is, in fact, Mueller’s job under the American legal system to provide evidence of Trump’s guilt rather than the other way around.
“Then there’s the economy. It is doing well,” Todd conceded,” but it was doing well before he took office. Yet with unemployment down and jobs being created, President Trump is getting this credit,” Todd complained, unwilling to recognize the fact that the rapid success of Trump’s economic policies has dwarfed even the president’s own rosy predictions.
STUCK IN DENIAL
Democrat leaders are still facing the same dilemma they confronted the morning after Trump’s victory. They had put all their hopes in the promise of a Clinton victory to the point of violating the integrity of their own presidential primary process to guarantee her the nomination. By going “all-in” with Clinton, they left themselves with no viable leadership alternatives when she lost.
Instead of accepting responsibility for the verdict of the voters and seeking to learn from the crucial mistakes which led to their defeat, Democrats wallowed in denial. At first, they hoped the results of the election would be overturned by unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud and blatant attempts to disrupt the Electoral College system.
They tried to change the rules after the game had been played, claiming that Clinton should be awarded the presidency because she had won the nationwide popular vote.
Privately, many traditional Democrats admit that they erred in choosing such a fatally flawed presidential candidate, but few could publicly say that, particularly after they latched onto the claim that Trump must have cheated to win the election through collusion with the Russians. Clinton was depicted as the wronged heroine of the saga, cheated out of the presidency which she deserved by her evil opponent’s collusion with Russia.
The public was not told at the time that the accusation against Trump was based upon an opposition research piece secretly paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democrat National Committee and compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British spy.
The Steele dossier made unverified allegations of Russian collusion by Trump and members of his campaign, which the FBI and Justice Department presented to the judges of the secret FISA court as evidence to justify surveillance upon the Trump campaign. The dossier’s allegations were leaked to the media and were immediately embraced by Democrat leaders as both exoneration for their embarrassing electoral defeat and reason to believe that Trump’s presidency was doomed once proof of the allegations inevitably emerged.
TRUMP WAS TRIED AND CONVICTED IN THE MEDIA
Trump was immediately tried and convicted in the mainstream media. Democrat leaders concluded that because the discredited president would shortly be forced from office, there was no reason for them to accept his legitimacy. They adopted a policy of “Resistance” to all of Trump’s policy proposals and attacking him personally instead of coming up with positive proposals of their own.
The calls by prominent Democrats for Trump’s removal from office disguised the fact that the party’s leadership had been discredited by the unfair treatment of Bernie Sanders’ bid for the Democrat nomination. The systematic elimination of all of Clinton’s mainstream Democrat competitors for the presidential nomination had left the party establishment without a recognized leader in the wake of her defeat, enabling Sanders and his radical left-wing supporters to fill the vacuum.
Sanders’ unexpected popularity with young Democrat activists had already pushed Clinton far to the left of her comfort zone during the primary campaign. In the wake of her defeat, the Sanders camp would claim that the Democrats had lost to Trump because the Democrats had not moved enough to the left. Leadership of the party quickly gravitated to senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker who embraced Sanders’ extreme leftist proposals.
HOW DEMOCRATS LOST A GENERATION OF LEADERS
The more moderate Democrats were left with aging, uninspired political leaders, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and a thin bench of qualified presidential candidates, led by former vice president Joe Biden and New York governor Andrew Cuomo. That was largely President Obama’s fault. During his eight years in office, Obama did very little to prepare a younger generation of national Democrat leaders to take over after him, and presided over massive Democrat losses on the state and national levels during the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections.
Many of the new generation of mainstream Democrat leaders who should be taking over now were defeated during those midterms, leaving the party short of experienced political candidates. This also cleared the way for inexperienced Sanders supporters who first became politically active during the 2016 campaign to challenge the older generation of mainstream Democrats who have nothing new to offer voters.
This political dynamic was responsible for the surprising defeat by a political novice of 10-term New York City Congressman Joe Crowley, who had been touted as a possible replacement for Nancy Pelosi. Crowley was easily defeated by a previously unknown Sanders supporter, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a registered member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
A SOCIALIST VISION FOR THE DEMOCRAT FUTURE
She ran on a platform that includes Medicare for all, a federal jobs guarantee (including a $15 per hour minimum wage, healthcare and childcare), abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency guarding the border, gun control, tuition-free public colleges and trade schools, and other progressive positions. She also accused the Israeli army of conducting a “massacre” at the Gaza border last month by opening fire on Hamas terrorists seeking to break through and called the border riots which were orchestrated by Hamas a legitimate form of “political expression.”
Sanders had been allowed to launch his 2016 presidential campaign because Democrat party leaders at the time considered his socialist ideas too extreme to gain wide acceptance even among Democrat voters. But as Ocasio-Cortez’s victory shows, they are now becoming the norm, especially in heavily Democrat-populated urban areas.
Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez were able to mobilize support and enthusiasm from young party activists who saw Clinton and Crowley as tools of a corrupt political system. When the details emerged about how Sanders had been cheated out of the nomination by the party establishment, it gave Sanders and his socialist agenda credibility. Many of their left-wing supporters are too young to remember the Cold War and are not turned off by their socialist label and proposals.
Ocasio-Cortez’s victory made her an overnight media star. As a young Latina woman, she also fits the Democrats’ profile emphasizing identity politics. Her DSA organization is small, but growing rapidly. Since the November 2016 election, its national membership has grown from 5,000 to 40,000. The organization was able to recruit 100 volunteers who knocked on over 13,000 doors to convince voters in Crowley’s congressional district to vote for his opponent.
So far in the 2018 election cycle, Crowley is the first moderate Democrat incumbent to be defeated in a primary by a challenger from the left, but he may not be the last. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called Ocasio-Cortez’s win a “general election problem” for the Democrats, because it indicates the party’s sharp turn to the left which he predicts will lose them moderate votes in the November midterms. Nancy Pelosi disputes the interpretation of Crowley’s defeat as an indication that Democratic socialism is becoming “ascendant” in her party.
However, the positive media attention which Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory has attracted is likely to help other progressive candidates in upcoming Democrat primaries against more moderate opponents. Bernie Sanders predicts that Ocasio-Cortez’s progressive “agenda will resonate all over the country.”
Polls show that the ultra-liberal policy views supported by Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez would be viewed as far too extreme for most voters who live outside deep Democrat congressional districts, such as in the Bronx and Queens.
DEMOCRATS NEED TO FIND A NEW FORMULA FOR WINNING
There is also no doubt that Democrat activists are becoming more ideologically polarized, and that the party’s radicalized base will no longer accept the moderate liberal approach that worked so well for Bill Clinton 25 years ago.
Ten years ago, Barack Obama was able to build a new identity-based coalition which worked well for him personally, but which failed to bring Democrat voters to the polls nationwide when his name was not on the ballot. Obama’s positions were more liberal than Clinton’s, especially during his second term, but they were still close enough ideologically for Obama to endorse Hillary Clinton based on her promise to run on his policies and to protect his presidential legacy once she entered the White House.
But significantly, Obama’s policies were not liberal enough to satisfy Sanders and his supporters. This has put the remaining moderates in the Democrat party who were comfortable with Obama’s agenda in a serious quandary. If they ever want to elect another Democrat to the White House, they will have to find a way to convince Sanders and his followers to tone down their views enough to be acceptable to more moderate Democrat and independent voters.
As long as they resist all of Trump’s policies and initiatives, Democrats can remain unified. But once Trump’s accusations that they are acting solely as obstructionists begins to stick, as has happened already on the immigration issue, moderate Democrats are finding that they cannot engage in serious negotiations with the White House without being attacked from the left wing of their party.
SOMETIMES IT’S BETTER TO GO IT ALONE
The refusal of Democrats to engage in bipartisan compromises has made it more difficult for Republicans to pass items on their legislative agenda because they control the Senate and House by very narrow margins, but in situations when they can do it, such as the passage of Trump’s tax cut bill in December, the Republicans can claim all of the political credit when the measure turns out well.
The positive economic results from the Trump tax cut bill are likely to have a political impact on the November elections. In particular, Republicans can claim all the credit for the substantial improvement in the unemployment statistics for black and Latino voters, potentially enabling Republicans to make inroads in those traditionally pro-Democrat voter groups. The endorsement of Trump by a handful of prominent figures in the black and Latino communities, in light of the improvements for its members, has given Republicans their first sizable chinks in those voting groups, and fear among Democrat strategists.
Trump promised blacks during the presidential campaign that if they gave him a chance, they would see real economic progress, and he has delivered. A larger percentage of black workers have jobs than ever before, and many now have better jobs. According to a June Rasmussen poll, twice as many black voters say that they are better off under President Trump than they were under Obama, and at least some of them are likely to show their appreciation at the polls in November.
The record low general unemployment statistics will also bolster Trump’s support and influence among the working-class voters in the Rust Belt states who provided Trump with his margin of victory in 2016. Democrats had expected resistance to Trump’s policies to work in their favor, but when those policies are clearly successful, resistance to them will have a negative political effect.
DEMOCRAT OBSTRUCTION HAS ITS LIMITS
There is also a limit to the ability of Democrats to obstruct Trump’s agenda. They have been able to slow him down by foot-dragging on Senate confirmation of his appointees. But when they tried to block the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court last year, Mitch McConnell simply did away with the Senate’s filibuster rule, citing a precedent that was set on lower judicial confirmations by his Democrat predecessor as Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid.
There had been a debate at that time among Senate Democrats over whether it was wise to use the threat of a filibuster to block the nomination of a highly-regarded conservative jurist to replace another conservative on the high court, the late Antonin Scalia. His confirmation would leave the ideological balance of the court unchanged. When Democrats issued the threat anyway, McConnell was able to reasonably argue that a filibuster would have amounted to needless obstruction, thereby justifying his decision to do away with the filibuster of Supreme Court nominees.
The retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had served as the court’s ideological swing vote in 5-4 decisions, now gives Trump the opportunity to name a reliable conservative to fill Kennedy’s seat. That will move the court’s ideological balance significantly to the right, but the Democrats no longer have the option of using a filibuster to block Trump’s pick.
Congressional Democrats also have very little power to influence Trump’s foreign policies over which the US Constitution gives him almost total control. Because Obama’s major foreign policy initiatives, including the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accords, were never ratified by the Senate, Trump was able to do away with them with the stroke of his pen. Similarly, he did not need their approval to move the US Embassy to Yerushalayim, meet with the leader of North Korea, or agree to attend a summit in Helsinki this summer with Vladimir Putin. Democrats are free to criticize those moves, of course, but they wind up looking foolish when their warnings of their dire consequences ultimately prove false, as has been the case until now. Furthermore, the stubborn refusal by Democrats to give Trump the credit he clearly deserves for defusing the North Korean crisis, at least for now, makes them look petty and mean-spirited.
The most recent outbreak among leftist Democrats of what some are calling Trump Derangement Syndrome is the organized harassment of Trump supporters and members of his administration. This has further damaged Democrat credibility among mainstream voters, who expect at least a modicum of civility from their elected officials, and dissuaded others from joining their cause.
Democrat Congresswoman Maxine Waters has long been one of the most extreme liberals in Congress. Until recently, her extreme political ideas and broad accusations were routinely dismissed by the media and the political establishment alike. Her endorsement of the recent incidents of harassment of Trump administration officials and his supporters was seen as a tacit incitement to violence. The mild initial reaction of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to Waters’ statement as “unacceptable” was widely seen as insufficient. Senator Schumer recognized the danger of Waters’ statement posed to free political discourse in this country and gave it the condemnation it deserved.
PROTESTS OVER NOTHING
While Democrat party leaders, at least for now, have stopped calling openly for intimidation of Trump supporters, they are still actively organizing public protests against policies Trump has already changed. This is particularly true on immigration-related issues, where Democrats are pursuing a thinly-disguised policy in favor of totally open borders. This is the broader agenda underlying their opposition to Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal border crossings and a growing number of Democrat officials, including NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, are calling for the elimination of ICE, with no border patrol force to be deployed in its place.
However, Trump responded quickly to the public demonstrations. Trump initially called for Democrat cooperation for new legislation to deal specifically with the problem, but Schumer refused, and insisted that Trump fix it himself with a “stroke of his pen.” In fact, Schumer knew that some of the underlying problems with the policy could not be fixed without specific legislation to overturn previous court orders, but he preferred to put the entire onus on Trump.
Two weeks ago, Trump signed an executive order ending the forced separation policy, ordering that separated parents and children be reunited as quickly as possible, and asking for help from Democrats in Congress to pass legislation fixing the problems which were out of his control. These include a 20-day court-ordered time limit on the detention of children, the need for more funds to secure adequate detention facilities, and to hire more immigration judges to speed up the amnesty decision process.
Yet the Democrat-inspired protests against the child separation policy which Trump has already changed have continued. The anti-Trump mainstream media continue to feature the protests prominently even though the reason for them no longer exists. It would seem that, very much like the Palestinians during the Oslo peace process, Trump’s media and Democrat opponents have difficulty accepting “yes” as an answer to their demands from him. Perhaps they assume that Americans watching at home won’t realize that there is no reason for the protests to continue, or perhaps they believe that there is no need for any specific reason to justify holding a public protest against President Trump.
Some Democrats now grudgingly admit that their original mistake was in underestimating Trump’s ability to appeal to the frustrations of alienated voters and the power of his populist rhetoric. They preferred to believe the derisive mainstream media portraits of Trump as an egotistical blowhard without the intelligence and moral fiber needed to serve as president, even after he dispatched a large field of formidable opponents to win the GOP nomination.
Trump beat Hillary Clinton with the audacious Electoral College strategy he had announced a year earlier, but his opponents continued to take comfort in the belief that Donald Trump’s remarkable rise to power was a fluke, and that he could never succeed as president.
Many are now starting to admit that they were wrong, but Democrats do have a long history of underestimating Republican presidents.
Liberals derided Ronald Reagan as an “amiable dunce.” They dismissed him as a lightweight Hollywood actor with good communication skills, but no real understanding of national politics or strategic Cold War issues. They ignored his history as a former labor union head who had become disillusioned with failed liberal policies of the Democrats, and who then served two terms as a popular conservative governor of California before running for president.
Similarly, they dismissed George H.W. Bush, as a well-meaning “wimp” with some experience in Congress and as a government bureaucrat, but no leadership skills and a lackluster record as Reagan’s vice president.
Democrats had even more contempt for his son George W. Bush, a “nice guy” who admitted he did not know much about world or national affairs before he started running for president.
In each case, the Democrats had badly underestimated their opponent.
Reagan would become one of the greatest presidents of the 20th century. He undertook a major expansion of US military spending which would ultimately bring the Soviet Union to its knees, without firing a shot. His low tax, smaller government policies created a new “Morning in America,” boosting prosperity and restoring citizen pride in the United States.
President George H.W. Bush presided over the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union and led an international coalition to victory over Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. led the nation into its first major military operation since Vietnam with Operation Desert Storm, reached a historic deficit reduction agreement with the Democratic Congress in 1990.
President George W. Bush united the country in response to the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks and launched two major military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in retaliation. He reconfigured the nation’s approach to national security to meet the new post-9/11 realities while cutting taxes and reaching compromises with Democrats on a new Medicare drug benefit and educational legislation.
TRUMP’S DRAMATIC EARLY SUCCESSES
But with the possible exception of Reagan, none of these Republican presidents had a more sweeping policy agenda than Trump or has achieved more dramatic initial successes.
Those successes have become a major source of frustration for Trump’s critics. One actually said on national television that he wished that the US economy would go into another recession so that Trump could be blamed for it and prevented from winning re-election in 2020.
Other independent voters, and even some moderate Democrats who say they voted against Trump in 2016, have told interviewers that they are much more supportive of him now. Some say they appreciate the success of Trump’s policies in stimulating economic growth and creating jobs, delivering on his campaign promises and standing up for American interests in the world, while others believe that he has been treated unfairly in the mainstream media and by government investigators.
The public has also rewarded Trump with a slow but steady improvement in his job approval rating. Now standing at around 43%, it is comparable to that of his predecessors at the same stage of their presidencies. Talk a few months ago of a “blue wave” sweeping away Republican majorities in both the House and Senate has subsided, with the odds of retaining a slim GOP majority in the House now rated a toss-up, and small GOP gains considered likely in the Senate.
Democrat party leaders are also trying to discourage their most liberal candidates from talking about seeking Trump’s impeachment, realizing that the country has no desire for such a divisive fight. Some Democrats worry that continuing their extreme attacks on Donald Trump and his policies could be counterproductive. They also recognize the need to start shoring up their own voter base to counter Trump’s growing inroads with some traditional groups of Democrat voters whose needs their party has neglected.
TRUMP HOLDING HIS SUPPORTERS
Virtually all Democrat liberals remain vigorously opposed to Trump, but their constant attacks have been largely unable to demonize him in the eyes of most moderates. At the same time, Trump’s conservative voter base remains more staunchly loyal to him than ever, especially now that he is on the verge of putting a stable majority of conservative judges on the Supreme Court.
That being said, President Trump has a lot of important political balls in the air right now, from tariff negotiations with worried trading partners to the sensitive talks with the leaders of North Korea and Russia to a contentious Supreme Court confirmation process. If any one of them go seriously wrong, Trump’s other accomplishments may be forgotten by many voters in November. But barring a major surprise from the Mueller investigation, Trump’s position as president through the end of his first term seems secure, and if all those balls in the air land the right way, his prospects for re-election in 2020 would seem to be bright.