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.
First, we 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.)