If you feel like the last month been the nadir of the past three years, you’re not alone.
My friend Judy, a cancer survivor, expressed it in graphic and personal terms, "I feel like I’m getting chemo, like poison is seeping into my body.”
Others wrote to me about their fear that the guardrails of democracy are collapsing. Some lamented that they haven’t been this depressed and overwrought since Trump won back in 2016.
For all of the despair and outrage we’ve weathered since then, the denouement of the impeachment trial and a floridly unrepentant Trump have been crushing, a series of sledgehammer blows. That angst was compounded by the cowardice of all the president’s accomplices in the Senate and an attorney general flouting the rule of law in direct defiance of what we all want to believe: That, as Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman said in his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, “This is America…here, right matters.
This recent chapter, rife with injustice and craven disregard for the Constitution, has shaken our faith in whether the great American experiment has been indelibly corrupted and whether we’re living in the same nation we thought we knew. As one friend, who just returned from three months abroad, put it, “I feel like my country is slipping away — like it’s been changed forever.”
It is against this fraught backdrop that we cue the race for the Democratic nominee who will take on Trump. It has turned into the muddiest field in recent primary history and, predictably, is sending obsessive Democrats into a frenzy. For the first time, what was a cliche -- that "this is the most important election in our lifetime” — feels like a prescient historical fact and rekindles Benjamin Franklin’s warning that we shall have a republic “if we can keep it."
But, to rise to his challenge, perhaps we need to re-boot and reconsider some of the common assumptions and complaints about this election cycle. To wit:
1. Trump is going to win re-election.
Take a deep breath. That’s your fear speaking. Even the MSNBC pundit who says it with great certainty is no more psychic than you are.
Here’s the truth: For a president seeking re-election, Trump’s numbers are historically low. He has hovered at 52%+ disapproval for his entire presidency. Take his name out of the equation and pollsters would tell you the odds of re-election are dicey, at best a 50-50 shot. But, because it’s Trump, the Teflon Don who has gotten away with everything, we assume he’ll defy gravity once again.
Yes, Trump has two things going for him. First, it’s always tough to beat an incumbent. Even when you’re dead last among polling-era presidents after 1124 days in office, incumbency does have its rewards. Second, as James Carville famously said, it’s the economy, stupid. And, on that front, the latest numbers from Factcheck.org tracking jobs, household income, the stock market, home prices/sales and consumer confidence show everything’s coming up roses. Granted, it doesn’t measure up to the braggadocious claim that it’s the best economy “ever.” But, when your 401K is soaring, you’re less likely to care about the $2.8 trillion that’s been added to the national debt or the millions of Americans who have lost their health insurance on Trump’s watch.
That’s why former Senior Obama Advisor Dan Pfeiffer is urging the Democratic POTUS nominee to reframe the economic debate. As he says in his recent piece, Dems Beware: Don’t Be Like Mitt in 2012, “For too many Americans, this economy isn’t about how high the stock market is. It’s about how fair the economy is. As Obama showed in 2012, the candidate who succeeds in defining the terms of the economic debate will win the election.” The “Pod Save America” co-host and author of “Untrumping America,” also recommends that Democrats attack Trump’s plans to cut Social Security and Medicare as part of a winning strategy.
2. (Fill in the blank) can’t beat Trump.
Ah, the electability question. A variation on the empty “Trump is going to win” declaration.
When it comes to choosing a candidate, Democrats overwhelmingly say “electability” matters most. Of course it does. Defeating Trump is paramount. The only problem is that no one, repeat no one, knows who can do that. Yes, we can look at a recent poll that shows the top Democratic contenders all beat Trump by significant margins. (Read all about it in Josh Marshall’s memorably entitled New Polls Suggest Dems Should Chill the F*** Out.) But national polls aren’t necessarily accurate predictors of what will happen at the state level, which drives the Electoral College.
Consider this pop quiz. Trump will win in a landslide if the following candidate is the Democratic presidential nominee: a.) Bernie Sanders b.) Michael Bloomberg, c.) Joe Biden, d.) Pete Buttigieg, e.) Elizabeth Warren, f.) Tulsi Gabbard
Of course, f.) Tulsi Gabbard is the obvious answer but, in this fakakta world, who really knows? Seriously, right now the top two targets on the “Landslide Loser Leaderboard” are a.) Bernie Sanders and b.) Michael Bloomberg.
NYT columnist Tom Friedman is just one of countless naysayers who makes the case that Sanders as the nominee would be a disaster. On the flip side, others including Nathan J. Robinson in his piece “Why does anyone think Michael Bloomberg can defeat Donald Trump?” argues strenuously that not only would Bloomberg tear the Democratic Party apart, he’d lose to Trump. This takes us back to the first lament — it’s fear. Any frontrunner is going to run into the electability buzzsaw.
As Adam Jentleson commiserated in his NYT analysis “Why Don’t We Know Which Democrat Can Beat Donald Trump?,” the answer seems even more elusive than it did before the start of the primary. Still, here’s where Jentleson nets out in the conclusion to his piece: “No one can tell us who can beat Mr. Trump, because no one knows. All we really know is that the last two Democratic presidents (Clinton and Obama) to win were dynamic performers on the stump who inspired people with optimism and were able to assemble a broad coalition.
As a potential member of that coalition, the single smartest act of political analysis one can perform may be to step back from the data, and ask yourself a simple question: How do the candidates make me feel?"
Maybe it really is that simple. Just decide which candidate passes your visceral test and leave the second guessing of electoral strategies to Steve Kornacki. Or, opt out of the presidential primary and focus on down ballot races that can enhance our House majority as well as flip state legislatures and the Senate. Besides, it takes the guesswork out of choosing a candidate. Just let your buttons do the talking:
No matter who prevails and becomes the standard bearer, as Nancy Pelosi warned today, Democrats must be unite and rise up to defeat Trump. That may mean supporting a candidate you think is a.) too progressive b.) too moderate c.) too old or d.) odious. Unless you truly don’t believe that every single major Democratic candidate would be better than Donald Trump, you don’t have a choice. Start conditioning yourself now. Sorry, no Democrat gets a pass from supporting the eventual nominee. Our democracy is being eroded by an existential threat. Our house is on fire. We all have to do whatever we can to put it out.
3. The presidential primary season is a.) too long, b.) elevates non-viable candidates, c.) driving me crazy, d.) all of the above.
I’m guessing most of you picked d.) all of the above. Yes, we’re clearly in for a seemingly terminal slog. But with a field this fragmented, time may be on our side in terms of unifying behind the eventual nominee.
The WaPo’s Greg Sargent makes the case that the Democratic primary may remain a cliffhanger even as it goes down to the wire.
So, buckle your seatbelts. In my next post I’ll provide a laundry list of ways in which you can channel your nervous energy into activities that will make a difference in building the next big blue wave come November.
Finally, remember the words of Congressman Adam Schiff:
History will not be kind to Donald Trump.
Because truth matters. Right matters and decency matters.
It may be midnight in Washington, but the sun will rise again.
I put my faith in the optimism of the Founders.
You should too.