It has been apparent for some time that removing Trump from office will not, by itself, stem the tide of intolerance, corruption, abuse of political power for personal and political gain, lies, disinformation, and contempt for the rule of law
Trump has created an entire political party actively supporting these attacks on democratic norms and institutions. The fuel that drives this extraordinary political movement is a toxic mix of greed, political ambition, and resentment. The demonization of liberals, democrats, black and Hispanic people, journalists, immigrants, government scientists and administrators, universities, non-heterosexuals, and others, is relentless.
The branding of the Democratic Party as elitist, socialist, extremist, unpatriotic, and hostile to the Christian faith does not require campaign expenditures, media buys, or much top down coordination. In today’s Republican party, most candidates, public or party officials, at local, state, and national levels gives voice to these sentiments as a matter of daily habit.
How has the Democratic Party responded to this new reality? In the impeachment proceedings weeks we saw that there are Democratic members of Congress who understand what is at stake, who recognize the authoritarianism that the framers of the Constitution warned us about, but the party as an organization designed to win elections, at least at the national level, is failing us, and failing us badly. In the public mind the party is represented by its Presidential candidates—a shifting cast of two dozen people, all of whom thought they can be elected President. Over the last 6 months these candidates have utterly failed even to defend the party of which they are a part.
The Republican narrative that the Democrats are “lurching to the left” and embracing “radical” and “socialist” policies took a firm hold on media coverage and yet Democrats were unable or unwilling to attack the hypocrisy from a party that has marched into the arms of conspiracy theorists, the NRA, and white supremacists and would purge the last three Republican Presidents from their ranks. They rarely defend the New Deal or Civil Rights policies that most Americans support and would not have happened without pressure from the left flank of the Democratic Party. And these candidates have done even less to confront the threats to democratic institutions.
I would have voted for Elizabeth Warren in a heartbeat in a contest with Trump but when I attended her rally, I could have been at any democratic rally in the last 50 years. You would think she was running against Eisenhower Republicans or Bush Republicans. The only hint that things were more seriously amiss is when she decried corruption but even that took the tired and utopian form of “we need to get money out of politics.” (Yeah, right.) No mention that the current administration is a quantum leap beyond corruption in previous administrations; no mention that the President appoints family members to sensitive national security positions, or that he uses his power to build his business empire, or the conflict of interest among Cabinet officials that would exceed the last three administrations combined.
Most obviously, the legions that have been running for President savaged each other over the particulars of Medicare for all, climate change policy, and criminal justice reform, dividing its own natural constituency and feeding the Republican control of the Democratic brand: socialist, anti-growth, etc.. And they all but ignore the fact that attaining these laudable and important long-term goals will require them to not only win the Presidency but create majorities in the House and Senate for multiple election cycles. In short, there is both a policy imperative and a moral/constitutional imperative to bury the Republican brand for at least a generation. And yet, the only brand Democratic candidates put forward is their own personal brand.
What is almost unforgiveable about Democrats treating this like a normal election based largely on which of the Presidential candidates have the best policy ideas is that the Republican party has given them all the ammunition they need, and more, to win in 2020 in an historic and lasting fashion. The Democrats have squandered the first phase of the campaign. A lot depends on what happens next.