Home National Politics Steyer’s Right, Pelosi’s Wrong: Trump’s the Main Issue for 2018

Steyer’s Right, Pelosi’s Wrong: Trump’s the Main Issue for 2018


Billionaire Tom Steyer, who has launched a campaign to get President Trump impeached, says that Democrats, in the upcoming elections, should focus on the Trump issue because it “is the most important issue in front of America because it deals with every single issue we face. We have an unfit and dangerous president.”

But, as Kerry Eleveld reported in a Daily Kos article  last Saturday, “Washington Democrats are loath to discuss Trump’s impeachment heading into the midterms for fear that it could alienate swing voters who might otherwise favor Democrats this November.”

Nancy Pelosi in particular has urged her Democrats to focus on how the Democrats can deliver good economic policies to voters, and on how Democrats – unlike Republicans – are ready to govern.

Plausible-sounding arguments can be made on both sides.

But Steyer’s right. Or at least, with a bit of fine-tuning, Steyer’s argument should predominate as Democrats design their campaigns.

There are two main arguments for putting Trump at the center of the election.

Firstwe should talk most about what so obviously matters most.

Trump’s presidency has created an American crisis as profoundly dangerous as any we have seen. In so many ways, Donald Trump being president poses clear threats to American interests, values, norms, and national security. The danger to the nation from Trump and his enablers is the overriding political issue of these times.

When one issue so thoroughly dominates the political landscape, dwarfing all other issues, how can one seem credible if one pretends that issue isn’t there?  How can it be right or wise to focus on other matters while ignoring the mammoth in the room? (Especially when it will be impossible to address those other matters successfully until the crisis of this presidency is dealt with.)

And when it is only through our political process that the nation can meet the challenge posed by this all-consuming issue of a corrupt, lawless, incompetent, impulsive, bellicose, and possibly unhinged president, how can it be responsible to direct political attention away from that the urgent national crisis?

Isn’t speaking to the electorate in an election campaign the proper forum for mobilizing the system to protect the constitutional order– when those in power in Congress have made themselves part of what threatens that order?

Second, power is to be had by harnessing the energy driving the people.

There’s a strong wind blowing, and the Democrats would be wise to raise their sails to catch that wind. A national poll in January  showed that slightly more than half of Americans not only disapprove of Trump, but strongly disapprove of him. A still more recent poll of Virginians reveals that in this “purple,” bell-weather state, some 52% strongly disapprove.

So much strong disapproval shows that the nation is already aflame. The Democratic campaign should fan those flames – further kindling (in an off-year, and thus base-turnout election) the passions of those already burning , as well as spreading the fire further into the electorate.

Now for the fine-tuning.

Steyer’s main emphasis is on impeachment. And with his “Need to Impeach” campaign, Steyer is performing a potentially valuable public service: it helps instill the idea of removing this dangerous president from office into the public mind.

Ultimately, this crisis will ultimately have to come to that (or, if it fails to do so, the American system will presumably have failed to protect itself).

But that doesn’t mean that the public mind is already so well prepared – taking the nation as a whole – that it would be good politics in a general election to frame the Trump issue specifically in terms of that i-word.

In time, as the Mueller investigation proceeds further – and the serious wrong-doing of the President himself has been more fully revealed, and more thoroughly understood by the public – the idea of impeachment will have ripened further. And as that ripening advances, the times and places to raise the impeachment issue explicitly will expand accordingly.

In the meantime, there are other strong, effective, and already riper ways for Democratic candidates to run a Steyer-like campaign.

Democrats can run against the strongly-disapproved Trump by running against what Trump has turned the Republican Party into: the Trump Party. For, by their actions, the Republicans have fully tied themselves to Trump, and to his misdeeds.

The congressional Republicans have enabled Trump, have become his accomplices, have protected Trump by attacking the rule of law. They have violated their oath of office.

Every Republican running in America this year should be challenged to either repudiate what this Trump Party has been doing, or be tarred with the sins of Trump and his enablers.

It would be valuable for Democrats also to present their positive vision for the nation, and all the ways that they would like to move the nation forward to create a better America for all its people. (Indeed, some of the presentation of the positive Democratic vision might be effectively integrated with the attack on the scandals of the Trump Party.)

But how politically powerful can that message be, by itself, in the present situation?

Trump – with all his missteps, and scandals and bizarre behavor – so dominates the political stage that there’s really rather little room for anything like a sane — or even an inspiring — message about “the issues” to be able to register.

Trump is the story of these times, and the Democrats can either actively push the story to their advantage or render their campaign messages substantially irrelevant. If they choose to try to speak over the roar of the Trump scandals and crimes, they will make themselves passively dependent for their victories on the pre-existing passions of those “strongly disapproving” American citizens.

And there’s one more thing weighing against the cautious approach advocated by the Democratic leadership in Washington.

To run away from the Trump issue would be to commit again the mistake that Democrats have made now for a quarter of a century– a mistake which is part of how this nation descended into such a grotesque crisis in the first place. Once more, they will be running away from the battle that most needs to be fought.

(More on that habitual evasion of the necessary confrontation anon.)


  • Roger Miller

    Let’s say we go full-throated anti-Trump and three months from now Trump does that one thing that causes the Republicans to impeach him and elevate Mike Pence. Come Election Day, True Blue Progressives all over the country will be standing bare naked for election with not even a fig leaf to cover our indignation.

    • Andy Schmookler

      What one thing do you imagine could lead to Trump’s impeachment within three months?

      The fact that Trump has manifestly done NOTHING to defend the nation against the continuing Russian attack on our democracy through our elections hasn’t seemed to move them.

      If the failure of a commander-in-chief to defend the nation against an enemy’s attack doesn’t do it, what would?

      And there’s another point, which I’ll make in a separate comment.

    • Andy Schmookler

      My second reply to you, Roger Miller, concerns the idea of being empty-handed if Trump were to leave the scene.

      I believe that the positive vision can be presented in conjunction with the attack on Trump and the Trump Party.

      Any good way of being against Trump can be expressed also as a way of being for something.

      Every scandal that Trump is mired in is a scandal because he violates some value, some law, some norm.

      Every lack of human decency he manifests can be the occasion for speaking out for the human decency he lacks.

      Every bad policy Trump advances — like a tax bill that widens the already-dangerous level of wealth inequality — can be attacked in a way that expresses a commitment to good policies that move the nation in the right, rather than the wrong, direction.


    Trump is unpopular across large swaths of the political map. On that score alone, there is no real penalty for tying GOP opponents to him.

    There’s a good chance the Dems will ride a wave in 2018. At a minimum, the odds of a Dem take-over of the House are better than 50-50.

    However, my great fear — provided we survive as a nation and world until 2020 — is less about Trump specifically, and more about Trumpism. Trump is obviously an abomination. However, he has been enabled by the GOP leadership and donor class at almost every turn.

    I also don’t think things got bad all of a sudden in 2016. I think it’s a disaster that George W. Bush won re-election in 2004. It’s a disaster that a major party seriously considered Sarah Palin as a viable VP candidate — who I view as a kind of ur-Trump. It’s a disaster that the Dems squandered two big wave elections in 2006 and 2008, and allowed the GOP to regain unified control after only an 8 year hiatus. The GOP has controlled the House in 20 out of the last 24 years. Democrats are at the lowest ebb of power at the state level since 1928. That’s a pretty stinging indictment of the party’s strategy over the past few decades.

    My own thesis is that 2016 is basically the fulfillment of a successful counter-revolution against New Deal-era liberalism that began a little over 40 years ago (I would use the Powell Memo in 1971 as a kind of demarcation point, although you could use other reference points).

    Conservatives and the GOP successfully identified and targeted the structural sources of the Democratic Party’s power and over decades, they have systemically dismantled those structures (the evisceration of organized labor being one critical area).

    The result is that we are living in a world that has some resemblances to the political environment of the 1920s. We haven’t completely turned back the clock, but there are more echoes than anyone should be comfortable with.

    If the goal is to actually change the structural framework, to head-off not just Trump, but Trumpism, the Democrats have to weaken the support structures underneath the GOP, and do more to support our own party.

    In 2009 there were a bunch of missed opportunities. Passage of the EFCA was one (card check, union legislation). The inclusion of a public option in the health care law would have helped. Passage of comprehensive immigration reform in 2009 would have benefited the party (if not in 2010, then certainly by 2016). Building state parties, rather than dismantling them as Rahm et al did in 2009 is another massive blunder (fortunately this looks like it may be reversed).

    Before we even get to the mid-terms, with respect to the role of the financial de-regulation, it’s probably a smart idea right now to ask what the trade-offs are with respect to the push in Congress to dismantle key provision in Dodd-Frank.

    In particular, how does it help the Democratic Party’s base to let payday lenders rip-off low income households? Who benefits from a lack of financial oversight and weaker reporting requirements to the CFPB? The last financial crisis was absolutely devastating to a large part of the Democratic Party’s base. If people lose their homes, they get removed from voting rolls. Homelessness doesn’t make it easier for people to vote. Why are members of the party’s coalition complicit right now, in weakening Dodd-Frank? In terms of long-term strategy, how does this help?

    Regardless of whether or not Trump is impeachmed, he was elected to office with no margin of error and very little good will. His core base of support will always be with him. However, for a guy who only won thanks to about 85,000 votes in 3 key states, it’s unlikely he’s going to win again, if there is no impeachment and he opts to run for re-election.

    However, if we don’t improve conditions in this country for millions of people and provide more hope, my fear is that we will be dealing with a lot worse in the future. With the GOP’s tax bill alone, they have installed detonation charges that a future administration will need to clean up (e.g. $4 trillion of tax increases that start to go into effect in years 7-10). The same is true with respect to foreign policy, global warming and the environment. If repeal of Dodd-Frank goes through, there’s a strong possibility that we will be dealing with another banking crisis sooner, rather than later.

    • TheVirginia

      Trump tells his base that their hate of the left is right, justified, and something to be proud of. The evangelical part of the base is singing most of the solo parts in this choir of hate. There is no morality left among them, no love of country, no sense of community, just fullthroated hate. So just what bag of goodies are the Democrats,who are the devil incarnate to Trumpers, supposed to offer them? Good grief, Trump and his ilk are literally stripping away every goodie that the Democrats have given them through the years and they don’t care. I think we need to forget them. We need to energize our base by focusing on the real devil and that is this administration of incompetence, ignorance and treason.