Home National Politics Critiquing Democratic Responses To the 2016 Election– Part II, “Oppose Trump on...

Critiquing Democratic Responses To the 2016 Election– Part II, “Oppose Trump on Everything” is a Bad Strategy


II. The Idea that the Democrats Should Oppose Trump on Everything, Regardless

In the weeks since the election, one major threat of response from liberal quarters has been a call to battle on what might be called absolutist terms. Democrats, it has been proclaimed by various liberal commentators and groups, should oppose — and try to block — EVERYTHING Trump proposes. They should oppose — and try to block — ALL of Trump’s nominees.

I expect everyone reading this has seen articles and received emails calling for this kind of COMPLETE opposition.

I think that approach is a mistake. And, let me make clear at the outset, the issue is not whether to try to defeat Trump, but only of how to do so. (And this is all premised on the notion that there is no plausible way that Trump can be prevented now from assuming the presidency.)

I should acknowledge that, operationally, that strategy of “OPPOSE EVERYTHING” might not look all that different from the strategy I’ve proposed– a strategy in which the guiding principle is WHATEVER IS BEST FOR THE NATION. That means work with Trump, where possible, to accomplish what’s good for America, while opposing him wherever he would damage the nation.)

The two strategies differ only if/when Trump tries to do something that’s good for the nation. And to the extent that such occasions are rare (or non-existent), the two strategies converge.

But regardless of how frequent or rare the opportunities are, there is great value in declaring publicly (as the leading Democrats like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Chuck Schumer have done) their willingness to work with Trump on those things that serve the good of the country.

The importance of that declaration — and that policy — rests on their being two goals in the fight against Trump. One is to block him, as much as the Democrats’ limited power makes possible, from using the power of the presidency to damage the nation. The other is to weaken Trump in the realm of public opinion.

Public opinion is essential in this battle, for even though a president is legally invested by the Constitution with certain powers for however long he occupies the office, the actual power he wields is greatly affected by how much or how little the public is behind him.

So besides the immediate goal of thwarting Trump (and the GOP) in their destructive agenda, there is the longer-term goal of persuading as many as possible of those Americans who supported Trump to withdraw that support.

If the OPPOSE EVERYTHING strategy is employed, however gratifying it may be in expressing one’s hostility and disgust for this atrocious president, the Trump supporters will simply dismiss that opposition as pure partisanship. They will see that attack on their man as an attack on themselves, and the likely effect will be for them to rally round their leader.

And for those in the middle, also, it will be a squandered opportunity to influence how they see Trump. No one looks at a stopped clock to find out what time it is. So why should anyone look to the Democrats to see what’s right to support or right to oppose, if they like a stopped clock invariably say the same thing.

I’ve heard it argued that across-the-board obstructionism has proved to be a successful strategy for the Republicans, so therefore the Democrats should give it a try.

There’s a big problem with that reasoning. The GOP succeeded with its obstructionism largely because the Democrats refrained from making the huge and continuous stink about it that such unprecedented conduct warranted. It was clearly a betrayal of the nation, and it should have been kept front and center from the bully pulpit with a supporting chorus of all the rest of the Democratic voices.

That never happened. Relatively mild objections amounted to overall acquiescence.

Who thinks that the Republicans would acquiesce similarly? This is a Party that makes makes mountains out of molehills (Hillary’s emails, etc.), makes scandals out of mere fictions (Benghazi, etc.).

What worked for the Republicans against Democrats loath to wage battle will not work for Democrats against Republicans who have created a political culture based on making a fight over everything.

Better all around to fight what should be fought, but be visibly willing to support what should be supported.


  • Elaine Owens

    I basically agree with you, Andy, and Chuck Schumer, now the nominal head of the party in Congress, has indicated that way is his preferred way to proceed. Democrats, for instance, have to remember that the Senate Democrats repealed the option of filibustering cabinet positions because of the intransigence of GOP senators in agreeing to President Obama’s nominations. Thankfully, they kept the option of filibustering Supreme Court nominees. I do hope that Democrats jump on the emerging facts of Russian hacks to benefit Donald Trump’s election chances. It’s a winner no matter how you look at it. Concrete example: While I waited for my car to be inspected this morning, the shop had on Fox News (ugh!). As the story unfolded on Fox of the CIA findings that Russia hacked the DNC and Podesta’s emails and evidently gave information to Wikileaks for distribution, etc., the woman sitting next to me (someone I am quite sure voted for Trump) asked me if I thought the CIA was accurate. I told her that the facts had to come out in a thorough investigation because Putin is an autocrat, a murderer of those oppose to him, and a threat to American vital interests. She agreed with me completely. This is an opening to allow Democrats to show just what Trump is under the facade of his reality show persona. My concern is that Democrats won’t fight the battles they can win, not that they will fight everything Trump proposes.

  • notjohnsmosby

    Democrats have gotten really bad at consumer marketing over the last 16 years. Bill Clinton was great at it. When he got a piece of legislation passed, he told the world and took credit. When Republicans tried to jam him up, he stopped it, told the world and took credit.

    Under Bush II, it took years of bad governance before Dems got fired up enough to start telling the world what a screw-up he was. Only after Iraq went totally in the crapper and Katrina hit did they pull the gloves off.

    Obama is a disaster at selling his accomplishments. The worst I’ve ever seen.

    Democrats don’t have to become the party of no. What they do need to do is be constantly and loudly vocal about what Trump and congressional Republicans are trying to do. Don’t be whiny, just be upfront and brutally honest. Speak up, speak loudly, speak as a team.

    • Elaine Owens

      I really wouldn’t give Bill Clinton too much credit. After two years with a Democratic Congress, he – just like Barack Obama – had a disastrous mid-term election that ended his ability to get many of his priorities through Congress. Then, Clinton began his “triangulation”maneuver, resulting in his acquiescing to many Republican priorities (like welfare reform). It seems to me that the Democrats have a problem in energizing the party base for any election except the presidential one, including losing most governorships and state legislatures. As a party we need to look at how we run politics at all levels. Otherwise, we’ll be playing catch-up for a very long time.

      • Yep. So why can’t we figure this out???

        • Elaine Owens

          I personally think it takes a grassroots effort that Democrats on several levels haven’t figured out yet. Republicans have Chambers of Commerce, evangelical churches, etc., to keep in touch with their base. We have lost, for the most part, the labor unions and the social groups that Democrats used to rely on. Beats me…

      • notjohnsmosby

        Clinton got a massive amount done even with a Republican congress. Dems complain about triangulation, but it was highly successful.

  • Logic

    I suspect as a practical matter it’ll come down to at risk Democrats who do not want to lose their seats making the decision for the rest of their party. It won’t be Pelosi, Reid, Schumer, etc, deciding whether to work with Republicans, it’ll be Manchin, Donnelley, McCaskill, and Heitkamp, names like those are about to be the most commonly referred to names in the press, because they will be the deciding votes on a variety of Trump initiatives. Probably one of the first will be comprehensive tax reform, Republicans in Congress already say they are 80% of the way to having that ready for Trump, and you can bet they’re already on the phone with some of these vulnerable Democrats looking for support for it. Make no mistake, they will vote with Trump and Republicans on a lot of issues, because they come from states like Indiana and Montana and have voters to answer to.