Donald Trump shows no signs of changing the behavior which has made him a target of ridicule and disbelief for many Americans, and even convinced some people in his “base” to abandon him. Over the next year, more information about his deceits will trickle out to the country. And he will get more anxious.
The array of Democratic candidates who want to replace him is dauntingly large, but it would be hard to find a more politically attractive and personally admirable class of presidential aspirants in our history. Each one presents a powerful challenge to Trump and everything he does. The constant worrying within liberal ranks about “electability” is useless and distracting. Against Trump and Republican politics, which also shows no sign of becoming less vindictive, the more we learn about most of the Democrats, the more there is to like.
Republican voter suppression is not enough to hand Trump another 4 years. But if these ambitious Democrats decide to put their own success first, to emphasize how their colleagues are wrong, if they try to be like Trump was within his Party in 2016, then he might win. Nobody’s better at doing Trump than Trump.
The Democrats, every one of them, are better than Trump. They are better because of what they share, their values and their determination to enact them for the good of the nation.
Democrats share one of the fundamental ideas of democracy: no institution, private or government, has the right to discriminate against chosen groups of less worthy citizens. They recognize how American discrimination from colonization to the present should determine political policies about the future. Republicans accuse Democrats of being dominated by “identity politics”, and this label seems to have stuck, which is intentionally ironic. Democrats practice anti-identity politics by arguing that identity should not matter, in the grocery store, in schools, in a restaurant, at polling places. Republicans protect their crude forms of identity politics by turning Democratic arguments on their head and claiming that religion, efficiency, and security trump equality. The targets of Republican special treatment are transgender students, gay couples, African American and Native American voters, former felons, immigrants legal and not, Muslims. Across the country, Republicans are concocting political schemes to make these people’s identities matter, to single them out.
Another basic message that’s easy to promote together is the rejection of Trump’s rejection of the alliances and the international agreements Americans have worked so hard to achieve. On this, as on so many issues to which Trump and the Republicans cling, a significant majority of Americans support the position Democrats have been taking since Trump took office: stay with the Paris climate accord, stay with the Iran nuclear agreement, stay with our long-term allies in Europe. There’s no need for any of the Democrats to do more than explain why the majority of voters is exactly right.
Democrats don’t have to allow Republicans to get any traction with charges of “tax and spend”. Democratic spending priorities are right in line with what most Americans want: maybe spend less, but not more on the military (68%); more not less on education (77%); more on helping the poor (71%); more on protecting the environment (66%).
The diversity of this Democratic team of rivals makes sending a unified message even more attractive. I want to see the entire company of black and white and Hispanic, gay and straight men and women who call themselves Democrats sing with one voice about how to make America greater than it is now. I don’t begrudge their later solos. But individually they won’t transform our politics. Only as a team that represents and portrays all Americans can they accomplish what is needed to revive our tattered democracy.
The Democrats have failed since the 1970s to control their own message. They have allowed conservative ideologues to create a cartoon about “quiche eaters” and communists, about elitism and condescension, about “tree huggers” and softies, about a majority of America that hates America. At this moment, Americans of all political persuasions want to hear about an alternative to our current political reality. It would be an extraordinary departure from political tradition for the Democrats to fight Trump as a team instead of warring with each other. But these are extraordinary times, or at least they seem to be.
I have gotten tired of the more than daily emails I get from the Bernie Sanders campaign saying “give to me”. They are not only repetitive. They carry the wrong message. Sanders’ slogan is “Not me. Us.”That should be taken to heart by all the Democratic candidates. I want to hear, “Give to us.”
I want to hear these Democrats congratulate each other on their fine careers, their political skills, their humane and practical policies. I want the veteran “front-runners” in the media race that our elections have become to say something good about the newbies. I want the newbies to acknowledge that the vets have accomplished much and haven’t just talked the talk. I want all the talk to be civil, respectful, collegial.
The party politics of Republicans today are abysmal. Let the Democrats display to an anxious nation a different party politics. I think nearly any of these Democrats could beat Trump, if they stressed together how they all are different than Trump, and thus the Republicans. That simple message has many parts, but it is a winning message, not just for 2020, but for the future party political map.
Here’s a losing message. “Kirsten Gillibrand wants to give voters $600 to spend on political campaigns”. That’s the online headline for USA Today’s story about her very individual campaign proposal, echoed by many media outlets. It’s not exactly what she said: vouchers not gifts, only for candidates who reject contributions of more than $200 from any individual. But she should have known how the idea would be reported and the opportunities for ridiculing all Democrats she has delivered to the other side. She should know that the proportion of taxpayers who mark the $3 checkoff on tax returns for financing federal elections has dropped from 29% in 1977 to 19% in 1992 to 4% in 2018. Major party candidates don’t take the small amounts that are offered by this fund, because they won’t agree to limit other sources of funding.
Gillibrand is below 1% among Democratic respondents in the latest Quinnipiac poll. Rather than going off on her own dangerous tangent, she would do better to become part of a Democratic chorus. Democratic voters are clear about what they want from a candidate: not a particular race or gender, but attention to race and gender; not someone who criticizes other Democrats, but someone who can work with Republicans, while also standing up to their pernicious policies.
53% of respondents told the Quinnipiac pollsters that they definitely will not vote for Trump. Stacy Abrams and Beto O’Rourke showed that young Democrats can run neck-and-neck even in Georgia and Texas with well-known Republicans who orbit around Trump. If Democrats present a unified alternative, they can do even better than that, and upend American politics. Or they can upend each other, and hand 2020 to the Republicans.