This is dumb and wrong, and everybody involved with it should feel bad. The Washington Post reports, “Democrats are quietly airing concerns that battles with President Trump, including investigations of the president and his administration along with the noisy debate over impeachment, are overshadowing the party’s agenda, threatening its grip on the House in 2020.”
A special counsel has detailed repeated (and ongoing) obstruction-of-justice efforts by a sitting president that have hampered U.S. investigations into (still ongoing) foreign tampering efforts aimed at this nation’s elections; that president’s attorney general has launched a probe into whether federal law enforcement officers ought to face consequences for investigating numerous connections between that president’s candidacy and known Russian agents during an unfathomably consequential anti-U.S. Russian hacking effort; that president’s Treasury head is declaring that Congress is not allowed to investigate that president’s tax filings despite both credible reports of criminal activity and laws giving Congress exactly that power; that president’s party’s Senate leader is refusing to bring forward any bills sent to him by the House, regardless of subject, and its lawmakers have been mounting a concerted effort to defend that president against charges of tax evasion, profiteering off his office, obstruction, campaign finance violations, a career of sexual assault and predation, and take-your-pick.
It’s a little damn late to be fretting over not being able to properly highlight the party’s agenda. The Post reports that, “’Obviously we want to get the word out about the good bills that the House is able to get passed,’ said Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), a DCCC vice chairman. ‘But it seems like there is a preoccupation with what’s happening as it relates to the White House, and so everything else sort of gets drowned out.’”
No. Freaking. Kidding. And here is the catch: That is going to continue, no matter what bills or policy prescriptions Democrats put forward.
Even if House Democrats decide to ignore Trump’s criminal acts in order to promote a litany of bills still being toothlessly deposited in Sen. Mitch McConnell’s trash bin, new revelations of Trump’s criminal and amoral acts will continue to trickle out, dominating the news cycle. If House Democrats mount a campaign to pin the blame for Washington inaction on McConnell’s blatant vow to maintain that inaction, Trump will effortlessly overshadow that campaign with a new declaration that Mexico is allowing this nation to be invaded by a new strain of America-hating bees. We are in extraordinary times, careening through history on the whims of an unstable lunatic spewing a steady stream of Orwellian fictions, and a party bent on maintaining its grip on power, no matter what that madman says or does, or what the nation’s voters might have to say about it in the voting booths. “Airing concerns” that a pitched battle to retain longstanding democratic norms might threaten to overshadow efforts to pretend to be carrying out normal bill-crafting is awkward reasoning at best.
It is a pointless exercise. Talk of maintaining voter enthusiasm and a party focus on highlighting all of the well-crafted bills that could have become law had the other party not turned into a confederacy of raving arson-minded apocalypse-promoting nutcases is a collective thought experiment on par with “But what if Jeffrey Dahmer had instead channeled his love of cooking into a new Food Network show instead of murdering and eating people?”
That ship has sailed. Look out over the water, my friends: There ain’t no dock in sight.
Obviously, efforts to highlight McConnell’s obstruction and advertise Democratic bills intended to solve urgent national problems are not just reasonable, but required. But they are not sufficient, and any suggestion that Democrats ought to intentionally downplay their confrontations with an increasingly lawless president in order to redirect the national conversation toward policy invites not just national catastrophe, but electoral catastrophe as well.
If Democratic-leaning voters see apparent lawbreaking by Trump being met with impotence on the part of elected Democratic leaders, are they more likely to be motivated to protect Democratic gains, or less? If Democrats choose to base their campaigns on “policy issues,” will Donald Trump and allied Republicans engage on those issues, or continue to flood the airwaves with screaming warnings of socialism, treason, and the dangers posed by nonwhite immigrants?
There seems no better way to convince uncommitted voters of the futility of political engagement than peppering them with would have, should have process complaints while a sitting president violates ethical, moral, and legal standards without consequence. And policy discussions are all well and good—God knows, eventually perhaps the national press will discover one or two, if a barbecue grill is set up nearby—but there is no point in attempting to focus guests on your proposed changes to room decor when the rug is on fire. If the public is focused on the battle with Trump and not on other policy matters, follow its lead.
It may be frustrating, but here we are. And we have no choice but to muster the resolve to deal with it before it becomes much, much, much worse.