Politics & Policy

Trump’s Best Asset May Be His Unhinged Opponents

Anti-Trump protesters at Los Angeles International Airport, January 29, 2017. (Reuters photo: Ted Soqui)
Permanent outrage and hysterical doom-mongering do not attract moderate voters.

The good news for Democrats is that the apathy of many of their voters — which contributed to Hillary Clinton’s losing in November — is gone now that Donald Trump is president.

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“We have never in living memory seen an electorate as fired up and angry and engaged as they are right now, Ben Wikler, Washington director of the left-wing group Moveon.org, told RealClearPolitics.

The bad news for Democrats is that the fires of protest could burn so brightly that they alienate moderate voters and threaten any Democrats who decline to throw gasoline on the fires.

The anger of the liberal base is such that “a firestorm of criticism . . . awaits [Democratic lawmakers] when they don’t stand up to Trump,” Wikler says. As for primary challenges for Democrats who won’t confront Trump at every turn: “Everything is on the table.”

It certainly has been when it comes to the ceaseless efforts to delegitimize Trump. As soon as the election was over, state recounts were mounted, with the approval of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, angry demands were made that members of the Electoral College go against the results of their state votes and dump Trump, and wild charges were hurled that Russian hacking swung the election. FBI chief James Comey, an Obama appointee, was accused of tilting the election against Clinton, and blue-collar voters in the Midwest were smeared as “racists” who were easily manipulated by Trump.

Of course, missing in the progressive reaction to Trump’s victory was anything more than cursory mention of why the Left, during Obama’s eight years, had failed to fulfill promises of “hope and change,” address rising income inequality and middle-class stagnation, or win the respect of either America’s friends or adversaries.

A few Democrats have recently begun to question the party’s relentless choice of a negative, obstructionist tone. “I’d leave [Trump] out of the message and appeal to his base with a meaningful jobs plan,” Craig Crawford, an adviser to former Democratic senator Jim Webb of Virginia, told U.S. News and World Report, adding:

Don’t take his bait. Braying donkeys only make noise. Democrats should present a shadow government agenda that gives working-class Americans jobs and hope. Democrats should learn something from their futile efforts of the Reagan years, attacking the man instead of winning back his voter base with a positive message.

Democratic senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, agreed in part, telling the paper:

We need to be guided by a positive message about economic growth for everybody and a country that includes everybody. . . . We can’t respond to everything.”

Murphy suggest that the sheer number and pace of Trump initiatives makes it impossible to maintain a state of perpetual outrage. “To Democrats, it’s no accident,” notes David Catanese, the U.S. News and World Report journalist who wrote the story. “Yet given that Trump’s approval rating is hovering between a respectable 45 percent and 49 percent depending on the poll, the fury emanating out of Washington and other major American cities is likely disproportional to the country at large. To some Democrats, this is a flashing alarm that incessant full-throated opposition is counterproductive.”

After all, it will be difficult to sustain the Trump Derangement Syndrome that his “shock and awe” behavior has inspired. “Whether intended or accidental, Trump’s barrage of initiatives is thus far, by sheer volume and audacity, having the effect of confusing and overwhelming his opponents,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, a political scientist at John Hopkins University.

But the confusion is only making it more difficult for Democrats to think strategically. Even the Trump executive order temporarily banning travel from seven Muslim nations wins support from about half of the American people, despite a rollout that many — including National Review editors — criticized as botched. Support for building a wall along the border with Mexico hovers at an approval rate of 50 percent or higher.

The first test of the “total resistance” strategy against Trump will come with the confirmation battle over Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s choice for the Supreme Court. Left-wing groups are urging Democrats to use any and all means to block Gorsuch. That includes browbeating Democratic senators who want a more normal confirmation process. After Chris Coons, a Democratic senator of Delaware, said he believed that Gorsuch deserved a hearing and an eventual vote, the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee e-mailed its 1 million members, urging them to rebuke him.

“There is zero appetite among the public for weakness from Democratic politicians,” Stephanie Taylor, the committee’s co-founder, told U.S. News and World Report.

Claims that the public wants a filibuster of Gorsuch are preposterous.

But claims that the public wants a filibuster of Gorsuch are preposterous. In a CNN poll released today, respondents backed Gorsuch’s confirmation by a margin of 49 percent to 36 percent. Sensible Senate Democrats know that if they filibuster Gorsuch, the likely result will be that Senate GOP leader, Mitch McConnell, will simply scrap the filibuster and leave Democrats with even less power to influence the fate the next nominee, which would seriously tilt the balance of the court rightward.

But for now, such practical considerations are being pushed aside in the rush to portray Donald Trump as some kind of “fascist in chief” occupying the White House. In California, Democratic assembly member Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles has predicted that the anti-Trump resistance will be “a looming, long, ferocious and hard-fought legal war with bloodshed stretching from the Golden State to Washington D.C.

If Democrats believe that this kind of hyper-partisan opposition will carry the day or appeal to moderates, I say, “Good luck with that.” Donald Trump has a knack for alienating many voters and saying stupid things. But his biggest asset may be that his over-the-top adversaries are even better at painting themselves in negative terms.

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