The first and probably most important development is that the Republicans are consistently down. Democrats must do more than oppose Trump
Gary Younge, Noted columnist/
For quite some time during the primary season for the 2016 presidential race, Democratic party leaders were delighted that Donald Trump was leading the Republican pack. They assumed the brash reality TV star would expose the bigotry of the Republican base before flaming out and leaving a more plausible candidate beholden to an energised mob, and consequently unelectable. Trump won.
The first and probably most important development is that the Republicans are consistently down. Way down. In a Congressional by-election in Ohio, the Republicans appear to have eked out a narrow victory with just a one percentage-point margin (postal votes have yet to be counted). Trump, of course, claimed this as a triumph. But this was in a white, mostly suburban district that Republicans have held since 1982. Trump won it by 11 percentage points in 2016; the previous Republican incumbent enjoyed margins three times as great. It shouldn’t have been close. But the Republicans threw everything at it, including visits from the president and vice-president. The Democrats need to win 23 house seats in order to win control — according to the Cook Political Report there are 68 Republican-held seats as, or more, vulnerable in the lower chamber. Strong Democratic showings in three congressional primaries in Washington state, some in districts where Republicans were thought to be quite safe, further illustrated that this was no one-off.
But while they are down they are by no means out. Trump’s approval ratings are only marginally lower than Barack Obama’s were at this stage in his presidency, and trending up. The proportion of Americans who think the country is moving in the right direction is also growing, and is at a considerably higher level than at this point during Obama’s first term.
Support for Trump is intensifying even as it shrinks. This makes sense. Trump has slashed taxes for the rich, significantly relaxed regulations for business and will soon have named two conservative supreme court justices. He is delivering for his base — which is overwhelmingly wealthy, white and suburban or rural. And with every gratuitous attack on a black sports star or the media, and every xenophobic aside or outburst on the global stage, they love him more. It’s not that they don’t know how it looks to the outside world or his opponents; it’s that they don’t care.
Democrats have, so far, been the passive beneficiaries of the outrage that has ensued. The large marches in the capital, demonstrations at the border and gun-control protests all illustrate significant enthusiasm for combating the Trump agenda. But there is a disconnect between these electoral gains and this political energy. The Democratic leadership has decided to stand not so much against Trump’s agenda as in the way of it. A Washington Post poll last year showed a majority of registered voters thought the Democratic party stood for nothing other than being against Trump.
A top Democrat recently lost his seat in a primary to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old activist, in one of the greatest political shocks of the year. Ocasio-Cortez is one of a record number of women (overwhelmingly Democrats) running this year, including 11 gubernatorial nominees for major parties, Sharice Davids in Kansas, who would be the first Native American woman elected to Congress, and Rashida Tlaib, in Michigan, who’d be the first Muslim Congresswoman (there is also a record number of Muslims running). Ocasio-Cortez is a self-described democratic socialist, ran on a platform of free education and health care, ending the privatising of prisons and the abolition of ICE — the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency responsible for implementing family separation at the border.
“We have to stick to the message: ‘What are we proposing to the American people?’ Not, ‘What are we fighting against?’,” she said after her victory.
For now, letting Trump talk every single day, virtually uninterrupted, appears to be the official Democratic party game plan. With three months to go until the midterms they have proved they can provide opposition; they have yet to indicate they are willing to provide an alternative.