The Democrats have an opportunity – more than that, they have a duty – to intensify the pressure on the Republicans in Congress to protect the nation against Donald Trump.
Last Tuesday’s election made it quite clear: Donald Trump is a millstone around the neck of Republican politicians. But the weight of that millstone can be increased.
A deeply unpopular – not to say, much despised – president is always a liability for the political party with which he is associated. Trump hurts Republicans because they nominated him. Trump hurts Republicans because they have a shared, unpopular legislative agenda.
But he can hurt those Republicans still more deeply the more the public perceives them in terms of their disgraceful refusal to respond appropriately to the clear and present threat to the nation posed by Donald Trump.
Here are two questions that bring the issue into focus:
- What, ideally, would be happening in Congress right now, in view of all that’s known now about this President? And
- How does that contrast with what Republicans in the Congress are actually doing about all that now?
Another pair of questions brings another dimension — the Democrats’ dimension — of the problem into view:
- How are the Democrats dealing with the big discrepancies between the answers above, i.e. in view of the failure of the Republicans to do what they should be doing? And
- If the roles were reversed — with a Democratic President posing the threat to the nation that Donald Trump does, and the Democrats protecting such a President as the Republicans now protect Trump — how would the Republicans be dealing with those Democrats?
Both sets of questions expose enormous gaps: out of their unprincipled ambition, the Republicans are failing the nation; but the Democrats, in their own way, are falling short as well.
Which is not to say that the Democrats should be acting the way the Republicans do about their pseudo-scandals—like, say, Benghazi. But with Trump, the scandals are far from pseudo. And if the national crisis created by Trump’s being president is as serious as most serious observers believe it to be, surely the Democrats should be pressing the Republicans far more aggressively than they have been doing.
Not only does going after the Republicans over their protecting Trump serve the urgent good of the nation. It is good politics as well.
Although Trump is already tied to the Republicans in the public’s mind, the Democrats can be strengthening that connection. And the more closely the Republicans in Congress are tied to Trump — and especially to Trump’s scandals and defects — in the minds of the electorate, the more the intense and widespread anti-Trump feeling abroad on the land will transfer (like a contagion) to the Republicans running for re-election in 2018, dragging them down.
The Democrats should remind the public regularly about how the Republicans are continually betraying America by protecting this President, rather than responding to the Trump crisis as the framers of our Constitution intended.
Right now, the Democrats talk about and to the Republicans, and their Trump-protecting conduct, with a compassionate tone. Liberal goodwill is regularly on display. When asked by reporters about whether they feel that Republicans would do the right thing under this or that worrisome scenario – e.g. if Trump were to fire Robert Mueller – the Democrats answer along the lines of “I surely hope that our Republican friends would….”
Hope and goodwill are fine things. But these times call for the Democrats to hammer the Trump-protectors with a much tougher message.
This isn’t “We’re nice guys appealing to our Republican friends” time. It’s time to take it to the Republicans, time to put them on the spot, time to call them out. It’s time to challenge them with the demand: “When are you going to put country ahead of Party, your oath ahead of your own ambition?” All very loudly and publicly.
(And now, in the wake of the November 7 elections, the Republicans’ will be feeling especially vulnerable to such challenges. As I argued in an earlier piece, “What Last Night[’s Election] Means for America’s Trump Problem,” the Republicans have discovered that their political futures are threatened not only by the Republican base punishing them for going against Trump but also by a riled-up anti-Trump electorate ready to defeat them in a general election if they persist on aligning with Trump.)
The Democrats have a well-stocked arsenal of materials available to call out the Republicans on the unacceptability of their putting party and ambition ahead of patriotic duty. They have, of course, all the accumulating evidence of corruption, wrong-doing, perjury, and collusion with a hostile foreign power, arising out of the investigations. But they have other weapons as well, including:
- the things that people like Corker, Flake, and McCain have said about Trump—and that they have indicated their colleagues also recognize about the danger Trump poses to our democracy and national security.
- the well-considered expert testimony in the book, from the group “Duty to Warn,” The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.
- the stunning poll numbers from the citizenry of America’s long-time major allies showing how Trump has demolished America’s standing as a world leader: “U.S. Image Suffers as Publics Around World Question Trump’s Leadership.” (To illustrate: whereas 86% of Germans had confidence in the U.S. president when Obama occupied the office, only 11% have such confidence now, with Trump as President.)
And that list could be expanded.
That the Republicans are protecting Trump, despite all that, is a disgrace of historic magnitude. And the Democrats should be hammering them on it until either the Republicans do the right thing, or the electorate sends them off into oblivion.
Which raises the important point: this approach works whether it moves the Republicans or not.
1) If this strategy compels the Republicans to clean up their act (in order to avoid going down with Trump themselves in the next elections), that protects the nation.
2) But if the Republicans persist in protecting Trump, the nation should still end up better protected against Trump. All that requires is that the Democrats make them pay for it at the polls. The better they tar the Republicans with the stigma of Trump, the more likely the Democrats will gain control of the Congress after the 2018 election.
And, of course, the Democrats’ gaining control of Congress — with the powers to conduct the necessary hearings and to issue the necessary subpoenas, etc. — would hugely diminish the Republicans’ ability to protect Trump.
No matter which way the Republicans go, America wins.