Resistance seems to be getting all the buzz these days since our President is almost certainly a raging lunatic and Congress is hell bent on turning the U.S. into a society where minorities and women have no rights…you know, like ancient Rome, or Ayn Rand World. Don’t get me wrong, showing resistance and showing we aren’t going to sit back and take it when obvious injustices occur is an appropriate and necessary reaction for Democrats during this disheartening and disastrous beginning of the Trump administration. But it is also woefully insufficient to address the monumental existential threats confronting Democrats, in particular, and Americans in general.
Resistance alone, however, will not pry loose the Republicans’ stranglehold on political power in 30 states, it will not affect redistricting in 2020, it will not defeat Republican congressional majorities in 2018, and will not be enough given Republicans will pull every dirty trick they can buy, steal or think up in order to retain their massive advantages as a one-party governing power.
Now, President Trump is not the cause of Democrats increasing impotency. He is merely the most visual beneficiary of the certain-to-be catastrophic result of Democrats’ failures to:
- Build the modern political machinery necessary to compete effectively with Republicans in key battleground states.
- Construct a unified and uniform message that is simple to explain and makes sense to the average voter.
Until that happens, Republican dominance will continue to grow until the rights guaranteed all Americans are in the toilet.
As Republicans learned long ago, it simply is not possible to consistently win elections and advance policy without well-managed, well-financed, state-based efforts, which all Democrats must uniformly, passionately, and intelligently fight for, regardless of location.
Sophisticated state-based electoral operations mobilize the resources and intelligently align the functions of state political parties, independent expenditure organizations and movement groups. They recruit electable candidates for local, state and federal offices.They get news coverage to counteract every Republican lie, no matter how big or small. They invest in creative new ways to reach specific voter groups, build integrated communications hubs and conduct effective opposition research, community organizing and voter mobilization.
And they do it without a lot of infighting– like what’s happening right now in the fight for control of the DNC.
Republicans and their allies — like the overwhelming network of wealthy donors organized by the Koch brothers — have created intimidating political operations that execute these functions with great skill and precision in more than 30 states, not to mention having their own propaganda-spewing national #FakeNews cable network. Democrats retain only permanent, well-managed and well-financed electoral capacity in less than a handful of states.
This extreme political imbalance contributed to the Trump victory last year. He did not need his own “ground game” in 2016. He rode to power on the coattails of the Republican right’s multi-state superior political juggernaut, which Republicans obsess over all 365 days of every year in every battleground state.
This state machinery solidified remarkable Republican dominance in key states as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin, Georgia and Iowa. Republicans now have majorities in all state legislative chambers in more than 30 states and have elected 80% of the governors, 77% of senators and 73% of House members from 30 states.
This machinery was not built in one election cycle or for one candidate. It is not owned and operated by the Republican Party but exists outside that institution. It existed before Trump ascended to power and is getting stronger each year.
So while progressive resistance and confrontation are necessary in the days, months and even years ahead, they are not sufficient to build power, compete effectively,or win consistently within battleground states. Beginning immediately, Democrats and their progressive allies must focus on constructing, in as many places as possible, effective state-based capacities dedicated to winning elections.
Democrats know exactly how to build these high-performing, state-based political alliances and capabilities. They are doing it in Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico and, more recently, North Carolina. Each of these would be bright-red Republican states today but for the work of talented Democratic political operatives and donors who have combined forces and committed to building long-term political infrastructure in their states.
These are state leaders who are not controlled by national political organizations, are not dependent primarily on national donors and are not wowed by national pollsters, consultants and “experts” who show up every four years. They know their states. They know their neighbors. They talk to voters from every demographic group and every region of the state. They know they cannot win consistently without including a range of political views and allegiances in their strategic calculations. They know how to fight and when to compromise. They form alliances among Democratic activists, strategists and donors. They pool their resources and share their information. They are committed to the planning and operating disciplines necessary to win elections.
These pioneering state leaders have built and can provide invaluable road maps for Democrats in every state. Now, Democrats must apply these lessons throughout the country. Otherwise, all the protests, petitions, and pleas for donations that overwhelm my email inbox every damn day, however insistent and heartfelt, will be in vain.
Democrats have not lacked energy in what they’ve come to call the “resistance” to President Trump. They forced prolonged debate on many Trump cabinet nominees, coming within a vote of defeating Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and holding all 48 Democrats together on several party-line confirmation votes. Beyond the Beltway, huge crowds took to the streets on Jan. 21, and since then big crowds have amassed at GOP town hall meetings to demand representatives retain Obamacare.
But the overabundance of outrages and Trump’s uncanny ability to dominate news cycle after news cycle continue to distress Democrats. Which issues do they focus on? How do they wrest the spotlight away from Trump? Do they go after all Republicans or focus on Trump, who on some counts angers Republicans as much as Democrats?
Lawmakers and activists outside Congress have struggled with a thematic contradiction. They too see Trump as a threat to democratic norms, not just the Obama legacy. But they (and the rest of the country) see the White House team as absurdly inept. But Trump a devious plotter who must be challenged each time he flinches his political muscles, or a figure to be ridiculed and who can be relied upon to self-destruct? The answer increasingly seems to be: both.
Trump’s campaign thrived on chaotic, constant action. Insult her. Attack a judge. Vilify the media. Berate other Republicans. Make outrageous policy pronouncements, and then contradict them the next day. Talk economic baloney and blow the dog whistle on race and xenophobia.
It sucked up the political oxygen, entranced the media and gave a grouchy electorate the national temper tantrum they’d been waiting to unleash. But in government that same approach sows doubt and uncertainty about democracy itself. His claim of fraud undermines the electoral system. His incompetent, constantly bickering staff and his narcissistic indulgences destroy the respectability of the Presidency. His zigzagging foreign policy undermines our allies’ faith in the United States and creates friction between countries that rarely quarrel. (I mean, come on, Australia?!)
No wonder Vladimir Putin loves this guy.
Trump is creating pervasive doubt, dysfunction and drama — all of which diminishes U.S. standing in an unstable world. Trump cannot move his agenda ahead, but he can destabilize the country to a degree Putin never imagined possible. When the country does not know if its president and national security adviser are compromised by Russian ties or whether Trump is an inveterate liar or downright nuts, the United States cannot stand tall on the world stage.
While Trump throws sand in the gears of American democracy, the West becomes even more vulnerable to powerful rogue states (Russia, China, Iran, etc.), which threaten to unravel the international order. In short, Trump-induced chaos is the biggest threat to the United States and the West.
In response, Democrats and worried Republicans in Congress must be convinced by their own voters to pursue a couple avenues. First, they can create veto-proof majorities for initiatives such as Russian sanctions and military and intelligence rebuilding in defense of Western democracies. Second, they can insist on investigation after investigation. House and Senate intelligence committees supposedly have begun their investigation of Russian connections to the Trump campaign.
The Friday before Flynn’s resignation, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) demanded in a letter to the FBI a briefing on Flynn’s alleged conversations with the Russians. She wrote, “General Flynn may have struck an agreement or implied future cooperation with Russia and President Vladimir Putin regarding sanctions relief or some form of preferential treatment.”
And then there is a wily gambit Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) launched last week. The Post reported that Nadler “filed a ‘resolution of inquiry’ Thursday, a relatively obscure parliamentary tactic used to force presidents and executive-branch agencies to share records with Congress. Under House practice, such a resolution must be debated and acted upon in committee or else it can be discharged to the House floor for consideration.” Essentially this is akin to a mammoth discovery request one would use in litigation:
Nadler’s resolution asks Attorney General Jeff Sessions to provide “copies of any document, record, memo, correspondence, or other communication of the Department of Justice” that pertains to any “criminal or counterintelligence investigation” into Trump, his White House team or certain campaign associates; any investment made by a foreign power or agent thereof in Trump’s businesses; Trump’s plans to distance himself from his business empire; and any Trump-related examination of federal conflict of interest laws or the emoluments clause of the Constitution. . . .
Besides Trump, the resolution asks for records from any investigation targeting national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, oil industry consultant and former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, political operative Roger Stone, or “any employee of the Executive Office of the President.” All four men, and for my money add Rex Tillerson, have come under scrutiny over alleged ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The process is disarmingly simple. The resolution must be referred to a committee. If it is not debated and voted upon within 14 days, it goes to the House floor for debate and vote. Now, Republicans can shut the resolution down by party-line votes in committee or on the floor, but Democrats get to air their demands — and force Republicans to take votes that will be seen as enabling Trump, Flynn and others to cover up their misconduct. Moreover, Democrats in every committee can do this throughout Trump’s term, highlighting specific issues and forcing embarrassing debate in the House.
But they have to show some spine and follow through with it. They have to make enough noise to get the major news organizations to televise and write about it. Speaking (or even raising hell) from their comfy seats on the Congressional floors will not be enough.
In short, they have to show that Mitch McConnell, with his three wattle chin, and Paul Ryan, with his backroom deals to steal from the poor must, be shown to be either in lock step with Trump’s unpredictable lunacy or against him. In the end, either one will buy them a buttload of trouble. The same economic troubles that existed before Trump won are still eating away at the foundation of America’s economic stability like termites. It will take time, but eventually this house will fall. And if Republicans enact their rich-centric policies it will quicken the erosion.
Yes, resist the erosion of democratic norms with democratic rules. Resist the Trump media blitz with required debate on issues he doesn’t want to talk about. Resist Republicans effort to escape blame by tying them to Trump’s malfeasance. Nadler’s tactic might not be the only solution to Democratic woes, but he may have found a critical tool in resisting Trump and returning us to rational, democratic governance.
For Pete’s sake Democrats….DO SOMETHING besides spend all your time and effort deciding who the next DNC chair will be!