On the Rachel Maddow show for Wednesday, November 15, she had a segment on the Republican playbook in which they shout “Fraud” — with no basis — when an election (or election process) isn’t going their way.
Back in 2016, Trump gave clear indication that if he lost the election, he would launch such an attack. (Aided by the Russians apparently, as Ms. Maddow showed.) And now in 2018, we can see the Florida Republican governor (and now senatorial candidate involved in a recount) trotting out the same kind of false accusations — and unjustifiable assault on the integrity of the election system. (Aided, as she showed, by the perennial dirty-trickster and not-yet-indicted likely conspirator with the Russians, Roger Stone.)
Really disgraceful, unAmerican stuff.
To discuss this problem, she brought in Ron Klain, who has said that he regards this irresponsible tactic as a harbinger of what Trump will do in 2020 if he were to run for re-election and to lose.
Klain is a very smart guy with a long and distinguished record at the Justice Department and as chief of staff to Al Gore and more recently to Joe Biden. I’ve heard him commenting on developments in this Age of Trump dozens of times, and I have immense respect for his judgment and insight.
But my purpose here is not to praise Mr. Klain, but to use him to illustrate what has long appeared to me to be a weakness among Democrats.
Here’s the story:
Rachel Maddow posed an important question to Ron Klain (and I paraphrase): OK, so we can see what the Republicans do, and we can anticipate Trump’s pulling the same ugly stuff possibly in 2020. How can this disgraceful Republican ploy be combatted?
And Klain responded by listing the three avenues for dealing with the problem that he recommends:
1) It is necessary to get the political players out of the election-running business. (He specifically mentioned how Scott, as governor, had tried to bring in Florida law enforcement to stop the lawful recount, and how Kemp in Georgia had used his position as the state’s Secretary of State to purge voters and tilt the electorate in his favor.)
2) We need better election infrastructure, replacing outmoded machines, etc.
3) And finally — and it was this one on which Klain put the most emphasis — Democrats need to win these races by large margins, so that — the outcome being so clear-cut — these Republican tactics that they use when the races are super-close cannot reasonably be used.
All that sounds fine. (Though I do think that even if Hillary had won in lopsided fashion, Trump would have screamed that such “fake” results come from the system having been “rigged” against him.)
But even if those points are all worthy, something vital is missing from that list.
When Republicans behave disgracefully, they should be disgraced. When they behave scandalously, they should be brought down by scandal. When they behave outrageously, they should be the objects of public outrage.
The era in which the Republicans can reap rewards for their bad behavior, rather than being punished for it, as should happen in any healthy democracy, must be brought to an end.
Which points to the central challenge that the Democrats now face at this fraught moment in our nation’s history.
The Democrats in the House now have the job — a mandate from the people, I would say — to check the President. As I wrote in a previous piece — The Key Role of Public Opinion in the Gathering Trump War — an important part of that job is to lead as many Americans as possible to see clearly the evils of Trump (and the Trump Party that enables him) and to reject them.
(And here I want to emphasize a couple of points, for which this discussion of Ron Klain’s list is but a specific instance of a far more general nature.)
Helping Americans see the evils of their opponents is precisely the job at which the Democrats have been failing for the past quarter century.
How else can one explain how a political party can behave disgracefully again and again, become more and more destructive as the years go by, yet win an increasing amount of public support?
Is it even conceivable that, had there not been some sort of incapacity and failure on the Democratic side of the American body politic, the Republican Party could have gained control of all three branches of the federal government and most of the states despite its becoming the party of lying and cheating and trampling on democratic norms unprecedented in American history?
So, as the Democrats take on the task of protecting the nation from Trump and his allies — as they conduct the Trump war that will surely come, and in which public opinion will surely be key — it is precisely this task at which the Democrats have so disastrously failed that they must now succeed.
For years, the Republicans have reaped political benefits from evil practices. America desperately needs for the Democrats to make sure that the Republicans are not rewarded but rather pay a political price for the destructive and indefensible things that they now so routinely do.
(Those points I regard as so essential, and so consistently neglected, that I intend to be repeating them in future pieces as we move forward into the Trump Wars.)
So, if the Democrats in Congress are going to succeed in their current task of protecting the nation from the destructive force that brought us Trump, and that supports Trump, and that now is expressing itself through Trump’s presidency, they are going to have to develop some capabilities hitherto woefully lacking on the Democratic side.
Since Trump came to power, there’s been an improvement. But room for improvement remains. That’s what Ron Klain’s answer to Rachel Maddow brings into sharp relief.
When so insightful a Democratic figure as Klain responds to Maddow’s request for a battle plan as he did — with no talk about turning the Republicans’ misconduct into a weapon to discredit them in the eyes of the American people — I am concerned about how prepared the Democrats are to execute their present mandate as effectively as America needs.
It looks to me like evidence that whatever there has been in the Democratic political culture and consciousness that has previously made them weak in this way has not been wholly overcome.