SAN DIEGO – Not Russia again. Whenever I hear someone say that our perennial nemesis meddled in the presidential election and helped elect Donald Trump, I wince.
Not because Americans don’t deserve to know if the Russians commandeered a U.S. presidential election. We may soon have answers. Congressional probes are underway, and the FBI is investigating.
And not because the issue hasn’t remained timely. Even the brouhaha over Trump’s now infamous tweets that he was wiretapped by President Obama has roots in the Russian story.
There it gets tricky. If Trump continues to push the as-of-yet unsubstantiated claim that he and his associates were under surveillance by the preceding administration, he invites further inquiry as to whether there was anything to investigate. But if Democrats deny there was any surveillance, they open the Obama administration up to criticism from those folks on the left who think Trump or his associates colluded with the Russians to embarrass Hillary Clinton and, for that, Team Trump should have been under surveillance.
And yet, I still get a pain in the pit of my stomach whenever I hear the words “Russia” and “Trump” in the same sentence.
Here’s why: Four months after the election, we were supposed to be talking about something else. By now, we were supposed to be pretty far along in analyzing how Democrats lost blue-collar voters in the so-called Rust Belt states of Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And, for their part, instead of focusing so much on Russia, Democrats were supposed to be trying to figure out how they could get back those wayward voters.
You remember how it was in the days after the election, when Democrats were walking around in a confused haze. There was going to be all this soul-searching and reflection by party leaders about what went wrong, and how it was that working-class voters in the industrial Midwest who had once been a reliable Democratic voting bloc wound up voting for Donald Trump – of all people.
Well, it hasn’t happened.
House Democrats made clear that they didn’t “get it” when, just a few weeks after the election, they re-elected Nancy Pelosi as House minority leader and rejected the alternative: Rep. Tim Ryan, who just happens to represent Youngstown, Ohio – a city that, more than any other, represents the kind of place with which Democratic elitists have totally lost touch.
Do you know who does get it? Michael Moore, who originally backed Bernie Sanders and came to support Hillary Clinton kicking and screaming because he considers Trump a threat to America. The filmmaker has mercilessly hammered Democrats for looking down their noses at their own voters. The problem is especially obvious, Moore says, in Rust Belt states like the one where he lives: Michigan. Early on, Moore saw what few other Democrats were willing to admit: that Trump could win thanks to support from working-class voters who felt abandoned, neglected, even mocked by the Democratic Party.
It was Moore who delivered one of the most insightful post-election analyses I heard, and it was about, of all things, baseball caps. He pointed out that – when the Trump campaign printed up thousands of red caps bearing the slogan: “Make America Great Again” – the elites in the Democratic party, including many who work in the media, laughed and dismissed the gesture as uncouth and unsophisticated. I mean, baseball caps? Really.
But, Moore noted, guess what a lot of people in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania like to wear when they’re running errands, or jogging around their neighborhood, or picking up the kids from school? Yep. Baseball caps.
What? They didn’t teach you that at the Kennedy School of Government? Well, they should have.
Now, Moore has a new warning for Democrats: Beware of Russia. When asked recently by Variety magazine whether he thinks Russia helped win the election for Trump, the filmmaker bristled:
“The Democrats should not be thinking that they lost because of the Russians,” he said. “The Democrats lost because of the Democrats.”
Preach, Michael. It’s time for Democrats to accept what the rest of the country already knows – that the party has become its own worst enemy. Democrats need to repair their relationship with blue-collar voters, or they’re done as a national party. And they can’t do that if they’re so focused on Russia that they forget all about the Rust Belt.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.