One of the ironies of Donald Trump’s breaking of political norms has been that Democrats are embracing the erosion of norms—in reverse. They don’t want a return to normalcy. Instead, they want to ape the worst qualities of Trump to achieve progressive means.
Trump’s third law is: For every Trumpian action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The effect of Trump has been to radicalize Democrats and the media, stoking liberal hysteria, and ironically making it more likely that Trump—the status quo incumbent president—will be viewed as the safer, more prudent choice in 2020 (as amazing as that sounds).
Indeed, you see it all around. Republicans are confirming judges hand over fist, so some Democrats are now saying they want to pack the courts. Trump is trying to use an emergency declaration to build a wall, so Democrats are threatening to use it on guns and climate change.
Even before the Mueller report has been issued, some Democrats are already champing at the bit to impeach. And if Trump wants a wall, Beto wants to tear down existing fencing—and other Democrats want to abolish ICE. Oh yeah, and if the rise of the alt-right wasn’t bad enough, some of the Democrats’ most prominent rising stars continue to traffic in anti-Semitic tropes.
I could go on.
The problem with fighting fire with fire is that everyone becomes an arsonist and the city burns down. If you were an American who was primarily concerned with the erosion of liberal democratic norms, why would you want to vote for Democrats who are hoping to seize on the precedent Trump has established—and put it on steroids? This, of course, is bad for our political system.
I’ve seen this before. During the run-up to the 2016 election, it seemed to me that Barack Obama intentionally trolled Republicans, helping to stoke hysteria and radicalize the GOP base (under the incorrect assumption that this would hurt Republicans). Whether intentional or not, Trump is essentially doing the same thing to progressives. His erratic and extreme behavior is causing them to react viscerally and emotionally. Rather than seizing the abandoned high ground (and the center ground), they are reacting to him—playing his game—and engaging in a race to the bottom.
Trump should be incredibly vulnerable. But this urge to out-Trump Trump strikes me as a huge mistake and missed opportunity to provide an alternative to Trump—which is to say, that they could try to corner the market on decency, expertise, and competence, all the while advancing a compassionate, center-left policy agenda.
Granted, this isn’t exciting. The heart wants what the heart wants, and the progressive base wants what the progressive base wants—and that is revenge and leftwing purity. But these urges are likely at odds with the strategic question of how to defeat Trump.
A lot of Americans might be on the fence about Trump, but that doesn’t mean they want socialism. How will the average American feel about the talking points released about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal”? Are they going to be cool with getting rid of cheeseburgers and airplanes, and retrofitting or destroying every building in America? In fairness, a lot of the most controversial stuff isn’t in the actual resolution. But that’s tough noogies. AOC’s team sent it out to the press as talking points. This is how the game is played.
Trump is going to have a pretty easy time casting these Democrats as dangerous socialists. AOC, along with her pal Rep. Ilan Omar (who can’t string together two weeks without saying or tweeting something anti-Semitic), have essentially become the face of the Democratic Party.
With apologies to Omar, it’s not about the Benjamins, baby; it’s about the Electoral College. And what plays in Queens and Brooklyn and one congressional district in Minnesota may not play in Peoria.
Yes, there’s still time for Biden-mania to sweep the nation, but Uncle Joe isn’t even in the race yet, and there’s no guarantee that Biden—having said all sorts of controversial things over the last several decades—could survive a Democratic primary in this woke milieu.
As it stands right now, the Democratic Party is going out of its way to alienate a lot of middle Americans who still matter greatly in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Donald Trump’s radical presidency has created a backlash so great as to render his adversaries virtually unelectable.
The irony is that the same people who warn us that the whole point of terrorism was to get America to overreact, thereby radicalizing erstwhile moderates, are essentially making the same mistake in domestic politics. Trump has the first mover advantage. Their entire brand is premised on (over)reacting to him.
Trump couldn’t have scripted this any better if he tried.