Political Opportunity of a Generation (and How to Blow It)

Unlike those who believe our democracy is under existential threat, I don’t think so. The guardians of the Bill of Rights are ensconced in their federal courtrooms and not going anywhere.

But the political field is fertile, you could say fecund, for a new set of political representatives. A sign of that great opportunity can be seen in the recent retirements of two stalwart Republican congressmen in California, Darrell Issa in Oceanside and Ed Royce in Orange County.

Friends of mine guessed that they could not stomach their own party in the age of Trump, but I strongly suspect they saw their fate in the numbers. A whole lot of voters in California can’t wait to get at anybody vaguely associated with the president.

The Latin-ward shift of Orange County does not help Royce and the same might be true for Issa. So the time is ripe for change.

The question is – and it is a huge question – are the Democrats capable of taking advantage of the shifting political terrain. On that, I am doubtful.

The party has not reformed itself after losing control of both houses of Congress and more than 800 seats in local legislatures over the last decade. The current leaders are part of the same old hierarchy that knows mostly how to lose elections.

I look at the European democracies that come from the same root as ours, and I see that when a party takes a shellacking anywhere close to what the Democrats have taken – that party revolutionizes its leadership. And they tactically adjust their platform.

The Democrats, ossified, have done neither. The same hierarchy remains in place and their policy planks have not shifted.

The one big thing the Democratic leaders have accomplished in the Trump presidency – unable to stop tax legislation favoring the wealthy, unable to have any voice in judicial appointments – is to drive out one of their own senators who was too free with his hands.

As a result, the Minnesota senate seat is now a wide open special election, in a state that is pretty evenly split between the two parties. In other words, the Democrats on their own may have managed to flip one of their senate seats.

It bears remembering that a majority of white women voted for Trump and that they are one of the groups whose support has remained most firm, moving only 3 points against him since the election, according to a recent poll by the New York Times.

But along with a locked-in leadership, Democratic tactics also remain immutable. They continue with an agenda of minority and feminist grievances. As a result, they are being outmaneuvered by their opponents.

The Dreamers immigration issue is a good example.

The Democrats have the economic fairness issue sitting on a platter, with a big majority of Americans believing the recent tax legislation favored the rich. They have the chance to breathe life back into their old form as the party representing working men and women.

Instead, they are going out on a limb for immigration. In fact, they appear to be considering shutting down the government over that issue.

They have maneuvered their own buttocks into a position where their opponents can flog them with the question of whether they can be entrusted with running the government and with illegal immigration – all at the same time.

I don’t think Trump blowing up the Dreamer deal was an impetuous mistake. It was a conscious strategy after he was warned by conservative allies that his supporters would reject it.

Letting the issue of his profane comments linger for a few days while it dominated news coverage, and then, almost as if toying with his opponents, halfheartedly denying them, served his overall strategy by keeping immigration at the forefront.

And the Democrats are now barreling into a showdown they cannot win.

I talked with a Courthouse News employee who voted for Trump and asked if she still supported him. She hesitated, saying he needed to learn when to keep his mouth shut and stay off Twitter. But on the issue of immigration, she said, “This country has a problem.”

The Democrats have let the issue of economic fairness wither from inattention while they bet the paycheck on sexual harassment and immigration, issues that do not move a majority of voters.

They need new leadership. Or they will blow the greatest political opportunity in a generation.


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