The Democrats are in serious trouble.
If they were hoping that special counsel Robert Mueller, after a 22-month, $26 million investigation, would awaken the American people to the dangers of Russian manipulations of our election processes, that did not happen.
When Mueller finally showed up before two congressional committees, he was laconic, refused to answer most questions addressed to him, did not respond to withering attacks on him and his team by Republicans. He often did not even seem to know all that was in his 400-plus page report. He did not try to decide if President Trump or his campaign conspired with Russia; he presented substantial evidence of obstruction of justice but did not try to conclude whether Trump was guilty.
Despite his damning report against Trump, he did nothing to counter Trump’s untrue, repeated mantra that he has been exonerated of all insinuations of conspiracy and obstruction, buttressed by dozens of unexplained contacts between his campaign and Russia and clear efforts to intimidate witnesses. Trump already has suggested he would accept Russian help in 2020; Mueller said he thinks this may be the new normal.
If Democrats were hoping that Trump’s flagrant violations of normal, decent presidential behavior would give their pack of presidential candidates more gravitas and political standing, they were wrong.
At the moment, Trump is on track to be re-elected.
If anything, the Democrats are helping him.
They have dithered over impeachment, undermining House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision that such a step at the moment would do more political harm than good. As a result, Democrats look divided, weak and ineffective.
Democrats have let Trump weave a word tapestry of “socialism” around them that has severely hampered them with swing voters.
Democrats have not pursued their advantages on the unfairness of Trump’s $2 trillion tax cut, the slowness of wage increases, the fact that his administration is caging and mistreating immigrant children and separating them from their parents, the administration’s efforts to unfetter business from regulations designed to level the playing field or to dismantle the health care system without providing an alternative.
Why aren’t Democrats doing everything they can to win new voters? Why aren’t they doing everything they can to win back blue collar workers they lost to Trump in 2016? Why aren’t they doing everything they can to make certain they turn Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan blue? Why aren’t they doing everything they can to cement their edge with win women, blacks, Hispanics and millennials?
And why haven’t Democrats done more to show what they have done in the House to make American lives better, thwarted only by Trump and the GOP-controlled Senate. Why are they letting outspoken New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seem to speak for all Democrats, driving their message too far to the left to appeal to swing voters? This is a pure gift to Trump.
Defensive Democrats say there is plenty of time to defeat Trump at the polls in 2020. But, insidiously, he is making the outrageous, the immoral, the corrupt, the unthinkable, the boorishness more acceptable every day. We are forgetting what normal presidential behavior is. Certainly, cable television is now addicted to confrontation, divisiveness, outrage and lack of propriety.
Trump won in 2016 because millions of voters feel left out, ignored and dissed. What are Democrats doing to change that, to convince those voters that they hear the message and that despite what Trump says, he is only out for himself and his rich friends?
Why do Democrats not make the argument that combatting climate change is not just some pie-in-the-sky liberal concept but a vital challenge which will save lives, create jobs and make life a whole lot better for everyone’s grandchildren?
Why do some leading Democrats pledge unfeasible changes such as free college for all and Medicare for all instead of realistic ways to make college affordable and fix the flaws of the Affordable Care Act?
Why do Democrats not promise that the very first thing a Democratic president would do would be to improve the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, which, more than anything else, will make our economy less viable unless we act?
Instead of fighting each other, why are Democrats not laying out specific plans to lower the cost of prescription drugs?
Under Trump, the Republican party has disintegrated. Democrats seem determined to emulate them.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.