Poker faces, gentlemen. “The Democrats will retake the United States Senate in 2018″— how much are you willing to bet on that hand? The data suggest the odds are in your favor. It’s a midterm election year, meaning the president’s party historically gets creamed, and a Politico poll from last month found Democrats leading Republicans by seven points on a generic congressional ballot. Add to the mix a grunting oaf of a president who’s spent his first eight months laying rakes on the White House lawn and then methodically walking into them, and surely this is safe money.
So who’s all in? Anyone? Hello?
The reason Democrats are by no means a sure bet next year surfaced at a press conference Wednesday morning starring Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. The pair railed against Trump for canceling DACA and called on Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to pass it through Congress as legislation. It was a good message—one I happen to agree with—and it was heard by almost no one. Even I only caught it because I had CNN on in the background.
Whatever the Democrats do, they always seem to get eclipsed by the gigawatt dynamo that is Donald Trump. And even when Trump briefly fades from view, as he has (relatively speaking) over the past week, events conspire to divert the spotlight: Charlottesville, North Korea and hurricanes. Each of those kerfuffles was an ideal opportunity for Democrats to showcase their respectively diversity-fetishizing, diplomacy-favoring, pro-government message—yet each only served to obscure it.
RARE POV: Total eclipse of the Democratic Party
That’s bad news for any Democrat who’s bothered to decipher the hieroglyphics on Hillary Clinton’s political tomb: as 2016 showed, Trump won’t be beaten by shutting up and waiting for him to self-destruct. The left needs to espouse something palatable, to acknowledge the electorate’s myriad grievances and present its own solutions. Instead we get Clinton herself, shuffling around like an irksome ghost, faulting Bernie Sanders for having the nerve to run a far better primary campaign than she ever did. It’s enough to turn Sanders into a greedy capitalist. At least Ebenezer Scrooge only had to endure this for a night.
Elsewhere, omens loom. Democrats’ “A Better Deal” blueprint was supposed to provide a substantive answer to Trumpism; instead it came off as a carbon copy and was promptly lost in the clamor. Pelosi’s vaunted trip to rural Virginia conjured up images of her gaping at farmers while the “Jurassic Park” theme played in the background and raised the uncomfortable question of why FDR’s party had lost such voters in the first place. Further attention has been siphoned away by Antifa, the conglomerate of black masks coming soon to a car fire near you, whose violent antics threaten to drive voters deeper into the iron embrace of so-called law-and-order Republicans.
Even post-Charlottesville, liberals weren’t able to reclaim the moral high ground, as they came out hard against Confederate statues only for a Reuters poll to land finding 54 percent want the memorials to remain. Remember, too, that Democrats spent the first six months of Trump’s presidency focusing monomaniacally on Russia at the expense of the issues plaguing the voters who soured on them. Get crazy about Putin—that should play well in West Virginia.
Meanwhile, the political devastation is incredible. Impossibly, the Democrats managed to cede kitchen-table issues to a former bottled water vendor. Even more unlikely, their hegemony in the culture war has given way, exposing an America that never quite knuckled under to the 1960s the way many of us believed it had. The GOP might have surrendered on gay marriage, but its Trumpian wing is currently riding a backlash against liberalism’s cultural oversteps that has yet to break.
Travel back to September 2009, one year after Barack Obama’s election, and you’d find public fury over Obamacare, tea party protests springing up, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell running strong in New Jersey and Virginia respectively—an overall political narrative that had been commandeered by the right. Return to 2017 and the opposition party appears listless, cadaverous—and that’s when they appear at all. Probably best to fold on the current hand then. Trump isn’t good at much, but when it comes to promoting himself and eclipsing his foes, he’s a savant.