December 30, 2019

Crazy Won’t Beat Trump

Impeachment looks like a victory for Democrats, but their lurch left will prove far more consequential.

The Democrats think they’ve just had a big triumph. The president’s been impeached. But Republicans see themselves as gaining the upper hand.

The House couldn’t lift the event into an air of historical gravity. They dressed in dark clothes and never smiled, as at a wake, but the deceased was making kicking sounds from the casket and appeared to be tweeting, so it was incongruous.

There was no “debate” and no one tried to persuade anybody. The revealing moment was when Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the first article had passed and some Democrats apparently began to clap. She threw them her mother-of-five look: Don’t make me come up there. They were surely members of the Progressive Caucus. They wanted to applaud because they were happy, and they were happy because they are shallow.

What felt like news came the day after, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who throughout the crisis had been relatively quiet and oblique, and who is never interesting by accident, suddenly became fiery. “The Senate exists for moments like this,” he said, rather menacingly. “Transient passion and violent factionalism” have swept the House. “The moment the framers feared has arrived. A political faction in the lower chamber have succumbed to partisan rage.” They have produced a “failed inquiry,” a “slapdash case” which is “constitutionally incoherent.” So “the Senate must put this right.”

This was, among other things, the leader of the Senate declaring war on at least the actions of the House and its speaker. Again, this is not some House blowhard but a serious man, and a careful one.

Why such charged language? Why isn’t he being boring and letting this dribble out over the holidays, letting the mood change, cooling the embers?

Maybe because for the first time since this drama began, Republicans are starting to think their position is gaining. Their thinking would have to do with the immediate picture and the broader national one.

The immediate picture: A Quinnipiac poll this week shows support for President Trump’s impeachment and removal from office has gone down since October, to 45%.

Why? Some guesses.

For one, in the past 10 days the latest jobs numbers came out, and America has functional full employment. A Quinnipiac poll released Dec. 10 showed that since February 2018, the share of the population who believe the Republicans handle the economy better than the Democrats has gone up seven points, from 42% to 49%. The share who say they are better off financially since 2016 is 57%.

That is a powerful number. When people have peace and prosperity they don’t like to make a change at the top. That’s what saved Bill Clinton when he was impeached. They knew he’d done what he was accused of, but they let it go.

In months of hearings the American people witnessed serious and credible testimony from officials of obvious stature who said, essentially: The president abused his power. None of this did the president any good. But there was no dramatic insider testimony from someone such as John Bolton, a Trump appointee who might have been astringent in his portrait of how the White House operates, and believed by the president’s supporters. The idea that America’s national security was endangered by the president’s actions with Ukraine did not take.

And the debate never moved beyond party lines.

My guess is that after the testimony, voters thought the president guilty but did not see this story as equal to the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee or the cultural catastrophe of the Clinton scandals.

They figured: We have a presidential election less than a year away. Settle it there.

They also probably think he didn’t get away with it — because he didn’t. The president has been punished in the court of public opinion, punished every day in the hearings, and punished in the impeachment vote, which will now be in the first paragraph of all his obituaries. If he committed knuckle-dragging malfeasance, he paid the price.

But the broader reality helping the president, fortifying his position and that of his party, is one of the insufficiently noted stories of 2019. In terms of politics it is the story of 2019, bigger than impeachment. It is that, poised to defeat an unpopular president, the Democratic Party picked itself up — and placed itself outside the mainstream of American politics.

In almost every national public presentation this year, especially in their presidential debates, they branded themselves not as what they had to be — a sophisticated party with a working-class heart — but what they couldn’t be — extreme left-wing progressives.

It was a historic misjudgment.

From their first debates in June, their major candidates announced themselves to be for sharply higher taxes, banning private health insurance, the Green New Deal, free college, complete student loan forgiveness, free health insurance for illegal aliens, and functionally open borders. They would ban fossil fuels and fracking. At least one candidate said America’s religious institutions should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage. They are extreme on abortion — no limits, ever — and in their support of identity politics, which sees not a country but a thousand warring tribes endlessly rewarded for being at each other’s throats.

Very much a part of all this, and sworn in just under a year ago, were Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “The Squad,” enthusiastically held up by the Democrats’ friends and operatives in the press as the future of the party. If they are, the future is grim, with their Leninist insistence that you’ll do it their way or be flattened. It is not only policies that count but spirit. Theirs is one of accusation and division. Where they should be ardent they are only arrogant. Their approach speaks of a desire not to make progress but to unsettle and undo.

But the point is most of the most famous public faces in the party spent 2019 essentially supporting a reordering of arrangements that have lasted two centuries and allowed us, for all our mess and chaos, to be great.

Here is how the party’s lurch left has improved the president’s position.

It makes the 2020 race not “Trump vs. the Democrat,” a race he can lose, but “Trump vs. Lefty Madness,” which he can win.

The left is turning Donald Trump into a savior. He was not a savior before AOC. He was not a savior before Elizabeth and Bernie said they’d ban your health insurance.

But the past year has allowed the president’s supporters, and independents, to see him that way. It has given them something new to fight for, something better. They don’t have to say, “I’m for Trump because I love him,” or think, “I’m for Trump because I have sacrificed all standards for power.” They can say, “I’m going to defend the free-market system and our liberties by voting for Trump.”

The Democratic Party doesn’t seem to see or understand any of this. But 2020 is already printing its bumper stickers. “I’ll take the somewhat demented over the wholly destructive.” “The imperfect over the obnoxious.” “Vote for the barbarian, it’s important.”

After so disastrously branding their party throughout 2019, is it possible for Democrats to turn it around in 2020?

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