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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Brownstein: For Democrats, an Opportunity and an Assignment

Some sobering insights from Ronald Brownstein’s “Trump’s Opponents Have One Assignment Now: There’s a far better chance of uprooting the president’s influence if he’s beaten at the ballot box” at The Atlantic:

There’s a far better chance of uprooting his influence over the long run if his presidency is ended by the voters, not the courts or Congress…Trump has demonstrated that there is a substantial audience in the evolving Republican electoral coalition for a message that combines open appeals to white racial resentments and unrelenting attacks on “elites” with an undiluted commitment to the traditional goals of economic and social conservatives—from cutting taxes and eliminating environmental regulations, to opposing abortion and installing conservative justices on the Supreme Court. The appeal of that formula for significant elements of the GOP base would not disappear even if Trump were forced from office by one of the many investigations still swirling around him. Perhaps the only way other Republicans might be discouraged from following Trump’s volatile path is if voters show them that it’s an electoral dead end by repudiating it in 2020.

An electoral rather than legal verdict on this presidency is probably a better outcome for the Trump detractors who consider him a threat to both the rule of law and the nation’s social cohesion. If Trump were compelled to leave office before 2020, through either resignation or congressional action, the majority of his supporters would almost certainly view it as an illegitimate coup by the establishment forces in both parties. And that would allow them to claim that his agenda, tone, and electoral strategy—what could be called Trumpism—had been betrayed, but not defeated.

Further, Brownstein adds, “the fusion between the party and its volatile president is steadily growing more complete. And that convergence increases the odds that the 2020 election could harden the existing divisions between what I’ve called the Democratic “coalition of transformation”—diverse, younger, white-collar, metropolitan-based—and the Republican “coalition of restoration,” centered on blue-collar, evangelical, and older whites who mostly live outside major urban areas…such a defining election is exactly what the veteran Democratic pollster Stanley B. Greenberg is expecting. He believes that the president has presented Democrats with the opportunity to cement a majority coalition by identifying the GOP so unequivocally with opposition to demographic and cultural change and with an economic agenda tilted heavily toward the interests of the most affluent.”

Rather than wringing hands in despair over Barr’s summary of the Mueller report, Democrats should seize the opportunity that is being presented by the GOP’s dubious bet on Trump and turn it into an overwhelming repudiation at the polls.

In 2020, Greenberg argues, the electorate could break away from Trump as decisively as it did in 2018. Last year, Democrats captured more than 53 percent of the total House popular vote and benefited from several factors: big margins from minorities and young people, a sharp shift in their direction among well-educated whites, and even modest recovery among working-class whites, especially women distressed by the president’s effort to repeal the ACA.

Where both sides might agree is that the results at the ballot box, rather than in any legal proceeding, now look to be the crucial factor in determining whether Trumpism represents a short-term detour rooted in a single (and singular) individual, or a lasting force in American politics.

“Even in its truncated form,” Brownstein concludes, ” Barr’s summary of the Mueller report signals that no outside force is coming to undermine Trump’s message by disqualifying the messenger. It was probably a false hope to ever assume that some personal vulnerability on Trump’s part would marginalize his agenda. The assignment facing Democrats and Republicans alike who consider Trump’s vision a unique threat is clearer now than ever: Prove at the ballot box in 2020 that a decisive majority of Americans reject it.”

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