Friday, February 09, 2018

Dem Bipartisanship Eroding Support

Remember "this is not normal?" A year ago, it was the motto of the self-styled "Resistance" -- the coalition of liberals, Democrats, and a few wayward conservatives who were implacably opposed to the Trump administration. The endless refrain represented the refusal to countenance Trump as an ordinary political actor. Doing so, they feared, would eventually lead to the acceptance of racism, xenophobia, corruption, and authoritarianism as a regular and unremarkable feature of politics and society. And yet, today, in the highest circles of Democratic party politics, resistance is waning. "This is normal enough," many key Democrats seem to be saying. When Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote in advance of Trump's State of the Union several weeks ago, he focused on finding ways to "work with" the president, such as infrastructure.

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Tastemakers and party leaders have overlooked that the anti-Trump movement's core political prescription -- uncompromising opposition -- has proven itself the single most effective way to frustrate the Trump agenda and elect his opponents. In 2017, nothing unified voters more than their aversion to the president. When anti-Trump sentiment was peaking last December, the Democrats' generic ballot advantage actually exceeded the gaps produced by economic collapse and mass unemployment in 2010 and 2008. This is no parochial gang of partisans: It's fully half the country, highly mobilized, and the proximate cause of recent Democratic strength.

As a result, Democratic electoral fortunes depend on maintaining Trump's unpopularity, much more than any rhetoric of their own. Uniform and unequivocal opposition has helped weigh Trump down in the public eye; abandoning this successful strategy for equivocation and compromise might lift him up. Facing a gerrymandered House and a bad Senate map, it doesn't take much to put Democrats' predicted wave at risk. Already, their huge polling lead is shrinking.

Democrats worry that a single-minded focus on Trump will leave them without an agenda after he's gone. But a new, conciliatory approach will mean that "after he's gone" gets further away. The anti-Trump coalition may not last forever, but at this moment, it represents, in raw vote-getting terms, the most powerful force in American political life -- the unified inverse of the nation's reactionary minority. As Democrats' stubborn resistance wanes, they risk eroding that unified coalition, and prolonging the crisis of the Trump presidency indefinitely.

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