Republicans apparently have learned all the wrong lessons from 2016. Hillary Clinton spent most of her time and money demonizing Donald Trump and moaning about possible conservative Supreme Court appointments instead of convincing voters that she would make their lives better. It didn’t work. Of course, part of the problem was the messenger, but I believe a major factor was a seriously off-target message.
So, what are Republicans planning for the 2018 midterm elections? In fact, what have they actually been doing in a string of disastrous special elections across the country? I can easily visualize one of their strategy sessions. One leader exclaims, “Look at those attack ads by our opposition last time. They are really well done, aren’t they?” Another vehemently agrees, “Yeah, we need to get some of that!”
So here’s the plan, as far as I can see. They are trying to demonize Nancy Pelosi while moaning about the potential for impeachment proceedings in a Democratic-controlled House. See the parallel? Let’s lay aside the obvious fact that this strategy failed for Hillary. It won’t work for Republicans either, for two simple reasons. First, no one really cares that much about old Nancy anymore. Her position as House Minority Leader is relatively low-profile and she hasn’t done much of note for a long time. And second, quite a few real Republicans despise Trump and would happily exchange him for Vice President Pence. They would get the same policies but more effectively managed and without that disgraceful lump in charge.
This is especially true for evangelicals who have been twisting themselves into knots trying to justify their strong support for Trump. They like his policies – a lot – but they are fully aware that Trump is an abhorrent person and virtually the antithesis of an evangelical. As I heard one prominent evangelical leader explain recently, “Life is full of compromises. He is certainly no role model but he is doing many good things.”
The lessons of history seem equally obscure to Democrats. I am beginning to suspect that Trump is smarter than he seems. All those crazy tweets provoke his opposition into paroxysms of fear and hatred so that they focus all of their attention on denouncing him personally in apocalyptic terms. What little energy remains is used to attack the perceived consequences of his policies. The problem is that most of his policies actually achieve very little. So really, why should we fear them?
Trump attacks immigrants, both legal and otherwise, and he killed the DACA program. This did have some effect and frightened the targets, but the impact so far is nowhere near what was feared. The federal courts have blocked the worst from happening. He blustered about a Great Wall on our southern border. So, where is it? His Republican-controlled Congress wants none of it. He thundered about disastrous international trade policies. Other than leaving the Trans-Pacific trade pact – probably temporarily, at that – what has he actually done? Not much that I can see. Even his vaunted tariffs are unraveling before they even take effect. He denounced our meddling in the Middle East as fruitless and wasteful, but really, what has substantially changed under his direction? Have we left Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq to their own evil devices? Not yet and probably not ever.
But wait one minute! What about the myriad of executive orders and changes to administrative regulations by the Trump administration? Surely they have had a great impact, haven’t they? Well yes, they have, but even a biased observer must admit that some corrected excesses of an overly-enthusiastic Obama administration. And in any case, these are temporary changes. The next Democratic President can, and probably will, reverse all of these once again. So our economy will gyrate from one extreme to another until it falls exhausted and dizzy to the floor. And while Trump boasts about his Supreme Court appointment of the far right conservative, Neil Gorsuch, this doesn’t represent a change at all. After all, he is replacing Antonin Scalia, who was the most reliable conservative vote on the Court.
Everyone has seen enough after more than a year to know that Trump hasn’t caused the end of the world as we know it. His tax plan is actually quite popular. Democratic attempts to vilify it as a massive giveaway to the rich have had little impact, regardless of the fact that they are perfectly correct. As I have often noted in my blog, envy is a much overrated target for political persuasion among Americans in general. They admire the rich and successful and mostly would just like to emulate them. Moreover, concern about looming deficits sits awkwardly on Democratic shoulders. Who believes that they really worry about them? They just think we are spending ourselves into bankruptcy for the wrong reasons. They have far better ones in mind if they get the chance next November.
The bottom line is that both political parties misread the lessons of the past, squander the opportunities of the present, and plan ineffectively for the challenges of the future. Yet somehow, against all the odds, we survive and even prosper.