A quick note to the Democrats on strategy. Democrats need to be wary of embodying Will Rogers' declaration that “I'm not a member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat.” My fear is that Democrats will be over the top in resistance rhetoric by firebrands, but unsure how to use the fuel of mass protests and popular revulsion at Trumpian policies. That Democrats will be running helter-skelter, not knowing how to oppose as a group, how to find spokespeople to hold to a line of thought and rhetoric. That Democrats will be confused by the welter of targets and so hit none of them cleanly, will not be able to vote as a bloc as the Republicans could, will not be able to decry an Administration the way the Republicans did when they said Obama excluded the possibility of consultation and finding common ground. My fear is that the “reasonable” Democrats will be mamby-pamby. My fear is the “Democrat” will become a term of scorn.
It shouldn't actually be very hard. You just have to be clear on your goals. The overriding goal should be: to kill dead the Republican Party. To do to the Republicans nationally what Governor Pete Wilson was able to do in California when he committed his party to suicide by backing the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994, and thus lost California for Republicans for at least a generation, maybe more. It was as momentous as LBJ's loss of the South, which he did knowingly, and for which he should be regarded as a Profile in Courage. Now, nationally, we just need to collaborate with Trump and the Republicans as they have set out in their Death March.
The Republican Party is not your father's Republican Party, it is a body double inhabited by forces alien to the American tradition. They are basically racist – look how they treated Obama. They are against safety net programs at all. They are against the environment. They are against abortion. They are against one person one vote. On and on. As a party, they deserve to die. Trump should be regarded as a useful idiot in killing the party dead.
The mission of the Democratic Party, should they choose to accept it, then, is to tie the Republican Party as closely as they can to the Trump Administration's obnoxious, hurtful, antediluvian policies, in an effort to kill them dead. Their mission should not be to kill Trump dead – he is an abnormal transient who won't last. But the Republican Party is the real threat.
Concentrating on personalities can be helpful sometimes, but the Democrats need to find the main themes, name them and number them, and then tie every specific policy to the main themes. Gingrich did something similar in 1994 with his Contract For America, and it worked. And for every policy, don't concentrate on Trump and Bannon and their proposals – concentrate on the Republican Party – are they behind it? Will they allow it? And make sure there are 48 Democratic votes and voices opposing.
Others could construct the list better than I, but here's a vision of it. Antediluvian social policies – anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-feminine in every aspect. The culture war redux – it wasn't settled, apparently anymore than racism was. Antediluvian – that's theme #1.
International economics is pretty clear – Trumpian trade wars are ill-thought out, theoretically indefensible, and will fuel higher prices on goods and perhaps a recession. That's theme #2.
Combative international relations, every day another example, needless conflict, dangerous conflict, money-losing conflict, job-losing and price-increasing policies, outdated analyses, isolating steps. Paranoid – theme #3.
Anti-environment – theme #4. They want to worsen pollution.
Racist, homophobe, etc. - #5.
Anti-safety net – #6.
Inside dealers who make themselves rich - #7.
Theft of public lands - #8.
And so on. Make a list, identify each issue that comes up with that list. So to make it clear to people.
Then, the Democrats have to understand the use of the hammer. No one ever drove a nail through the plank with one blow. You have to hammer, hammer, hammer until the message is received and internalized and ready for repetition again and again. Hammer it home again and again.
As for tactics, well, there is enough stupidity around, God knows, make fun of the fools. Have Bannon impersonators walking Pennsylvania Avenue, have sandwich ads walking the streets with “Want a contract – stay in a Trump hotel!” emblazoned. Conflicts of interest are easy to understand.
And then, work with Trump on things he is for and that will embarrass the Republicans. Call the bluff. Introduce a trillion dollar infrastructure program that is paid for by taxes on the rich – paid for, paid for, paid for. Hammer it home. Paid for. Fiscally responsible. Let the Republicans try to make it profit, or not paid for, and look to the theme list. Make it understandable, and discombobulate the opposition.
The manner in which it is done is important. We need firebrands like Elizabeth Warren to hold in the Left, even if she is getting carried away with her celebrity, as I think she is. She's right, she's smart, she is useful, but she doesn't appear centered. But what we really need is the lower key leaders, smart, intense, brave, centered, persistent, believable. Leaders whom we can believe will care for us, the electorate, the citizenry. Someone who can say, “What they are proposing is just ridiculous. These people are idiots.” You don't have to be respectful, you just have to be centered. Idiots – that's got to be a major theme.
Tennis great Bill Tilden said you can beat someone by aiming at their weakness, but if you really want to humble them, attack them at their strength. My choice would be to show the electorate how intellectually bankrupt Paul Ryan really is. He thinks he is smart, but he's not. Topple him.
The Senate will be a center of resistance, and I think Shumer is up to it. We'll see. But to my mind, where we are really going to find leadership is in the states. Most states have gone over to the Republicans, but not the major ones. I can see how those governors, of California, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, and others could form an alliance and agree on model legislation, for climate and environment, for instance, and healthcare, and immigrant status, etc. They could pass legislation and invite other states to join them. The state elections could then be referenda on whether or not to go down the path of California, Oregon, etc. See which other states want to join the informal union of progressive states.
If the federal tax burden declines, the progressive states could capture the – have the wealthy and corporations pay more to the states and less to the feds, and make better use of the money in the states than the feds would. California will send less money to Alabama; well, we can use it at home. Too bad for Alabama, but maybe the underclass would rise there; one can only hope.
The agenda in the states might bring good candidates out of the woodwork. If you look at the quality of state candidates in elections, it seems abysmal to me in so many states. No wonder we lose. The political class is far from top drawer. We need a new elite to get those candidates fielded and the agenda drawn. This positive agenda could do it, while the Senate would be busy painting the Republican Party as what it is, theme by theme. Let the Senate be the killers, and the states be the builders.
Be centered, imaginative, united, and disdainful of the fools who are in momentary control. Retool the team. Make sure everyone understands that these are the bad old days of the future. Maybe that's the overall theme – the future will see this four year eruption as the bad old days that preceded the good new days, as the reaction overcame the momentary rupture of progress. But only if we prepare. And only if there are leaders to lead, and only if the feckless are labeled as such.
I believe in the moral imperative of optimism. I keep repeating that to myself. I'm hammering it home.