In the span of a week it seems Democrats have moved beyond doom and gloom in the Trump era to a strategy to defeat Trump. Oppose, oppose, oppose. The strategy, if it can be called one, is predicated on appeasing their anxious and supposedly growing base. Take the case of Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He has gone from supporting almost all of Trump’s defense picks to opposing every single other Cabinet nominee. The “Schemer” even went as far to oppose Elaine Chao for Transportation Secretary (a particular snub because Chao is the wife of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell).
But, while Democrats might be heartened for settling on a strategy to handle Trump the evidence that it will work is much, much more muddled. Worse, any evidence it will yield them electoral benefits are strategic gambles at best. In fact, not every Democrat is on board with the strategy.
Senator Joe Manchin, who speaks with Trump more than any other Democrat, has more often than not backed Trump’s Cabinet nominees. He has also supported bipartisan areas for agreement between the parties. However, he may be a Caucus of one. Other endangered Democrats have largely towed the party line in opposing Trump.
The next few weeks will tell us more about just how many Democrats are fully on board with the “oppose Trump at every turn” strategy. Trump laid down the gauntlet with his nomination of Neil Gorsuch. Additionally, Trump is starting to lay down policy markers including details he is leaking to Congress about what he wants in tax and healthcare reform.
For Democrats, opposing Gorsuch and his policy proposals is par for the course. The only question is how highly such opposition is elevated. Indeed, opposition to Trump is the strategy so the party will have to pick and choose what opposition they highlight.
To an extent, the media has done it for them. Trump’s temporary immigration ban from seven countries and 120 day halt to refugee resettlement has been front and center for the country to see. Rallies have been held for and against and Congressmen and Senators (all Democrats) have been involved.
ACA Repeal and reform has also been front and center. Politico ran a front-page piece stating Republicans were debating ducking town-halls, holding them with police escort or digitally. The idea being Republicans are scared for their lives over the repealing the ACA, a signature piece of many campaigns for the last six years.
But, this is all anecdotal and the party’s strategy rests on a basic premise, the public is unanimously opposed to President Trump’s policies. Is that really true though? History has not been kind to those who have made that assumption.
Just look at exhibit A. The GOP Presidential primary field. Every candidate ignored Trump until the end largely because they believed his support was and would shift. Trump’s win was proof his support was not.
Exhibit B is Hillary Clinton and her campaign. Clinton trained so much of her fire on Trump personally, and not his policy ideas, that she let voters decide on them in a vacuum. While her base certainly favored her policy ideas it seems that middle America and many voters who swung to Trump late in the game preferred his policies to hers.
Democrats certainly have anecdotal evidence on their side. The massive rallies, marches and protests are largely against Trump’s ideas. While rallies for Trump are occurring they are not millions strong down the DC Mall. They are not occurring in NYC, LA or Seattle?
But, here is the thing. This looks a lot like last year. The same last year in which the media could not believe that Trump could win, that he was even close to Clinton in parity (despite what the polls said) and how their was a vast swath of America that supported him. Indeed, Democrats seem set to fall into the same trap they did with Trump during the election.
Look at Trump’s approval ratings. Yes, they are low for a first term President but he is still polling strongly with his base and hovering around 45 percent support. Additionally, there are once again serious questions about whether the polls are actually accurately capturing support and opposition. Online and automated phone polls have shown much stronger support for Trump than live, in-person telephone interviews.
Similarly, despite the hectic roll out of Trump’s immigration efforts the public remains fairly evenly divided on the issue. Move beyond the big rallies in liberal bastions in places where traditional media dominates and it seems many Americans do not have an issue with a temporary halt to refugee resettlement.
This is rarely captured in editorial rooms, media reports or even twitter posts (Trump loves twitter). Instead, the reports create a reinforcing echo chamber where opposition to Trump is seen at every turn when in reality it remains localized in the places that opposed him during the election.
Nobody would think to look in Vigo County for Trump’s approval outside the beltway. But, the county has accurately predicted the presidential winner for the last six elections and despite its blue-collar nature it is hardly a bastion of right wingers. Even as it supported Trump for President it voted for the Democratic candidate for Governor and Congress. Newsflash: Trump is still doing well there.
For the red-state Democrats in the Senate putting their faith in such a strategy the move seems ill-fated. I happen to be one of those who believes that Joe Manchin will probably be reelected in two years but even if Trump is unpopular some of his red-state counterparts will not. Most of these Democrats were lucky enough to win election in 2006 and won reelection/election in 2012 against sub par opposition. It is unlikely lightening would strike twice or even three times in a couple cases.
More broadly, the opinions of many voters in states where the Senate will be won and lost are rarely if ever polled. Sure, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan have traditional outlets that are used to polling these states (their quality and accuracy is another matter). But Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Montana and North Dakota don’t. In fact, not a single poll was taken of North Dakota last year.
To a degree this is mostly a function of these states being so red the Presidential election was never in doubt. But, it also tells us that the opinions of voters who will decide key races next year are unlikely to be heard.
If Democrats want to win next year they will want to hear the opinions of these voters, those in the Midwest, swing voter suburbanites and their base. But, right now it seems Democrats are buying into their own hype. Without anything to back it up. Just like 2016.