If the Democratic Party learned anything from the election of Donald Trump, it was that basing an entire campaign on how awful Trump is as a person isn’t enough. In order to win at the ballot box, Democrats also need something positive, a comprehensive plan about what they’re offering the American people in contrast to the Republicans. How exactly are they going to fix Obamacare? How are they going to keep the country safe? And will they bother to cut taxes for middle-class Americans?
Eight months after the earthquake that was the 2016 election, Democrats – at least those in Washington – appear to have forgotten that lesson. The party is all Donald Trump, all the time. Even the debate over the American Health Care Act, the most consequential piece of health care legislation since the Affordable Care Act, is framed as an opportunity to frustrate whatever legislative agenda the Trump administration has. The evolving Russia story, meanwhile, is like a drug to Democratic lawmakers and operatives constantly in search of their anti-Trump fix.
I’m sure Democrats on Capitol Hill are working hard for their constituents, introducing bills and conducting oversight of the Trump-run executive branch. But it’s all getting pushed into the shadows in order to make more room for Trump and Russia – what Don Jr. was up to, whether Jared Kushner’s security clearance should be suspended, whether Kushner has been completely forthcoming on his SF-86 form (he clearly hasn’t), and whether Ivanka Trump should be investigated for any ties to Russian officials. The strategizing among the Democratic leadership is increasingly geared towards forcing votes on measures related to the Trump family and the Russians to further embarrass the White House and expose Republican lawmakers as enablers without backbones.
There’s also the matter of the articles of impeachment that at least two House Democrats are formally filing against Trump for obstruction of justice. “Donald John Trump,” the article reads, “has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.” In layman’s terms, Trump violated the Constitution, broke the law, disgraced the country and should be thrown out of office — all in six short months.
Democrats, of course, aren’t doing all this just because they hate Donald Trump and everything he represents. They’re doing it because the public opinion polls suggest that the anti-Trump mania is paying off. It’s very difficult not to come to that conclusion when Trump’s approval rating (36 percent according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll) is the worst a president has had at this time in his tenure in 70 years. And it’s even harder when other surveys report that Trump’s handling of the Russia investigation is partly to blame for his free fall.
But eventually Democrats will need to pay heed to the lesson from last November. Focusing on Trump to the exclusion of most everything else is not a good way to bolster the party’s own sub-par approval rating over the long or even medium terms. The closer we come to the 2018 midterm elections, the more urgent it will be for Democrats to craft a message and policy platform of their own – assuming they want to avoid a repeat of the 2016 experience.