WASHINGTON -- If political power were won by hand-wringing and anguished introspection, the Democratic Party would rule the galaxy.
The hum of obsessive and counterproductive worry is rising: President Trump’s approval has crept up from abysmal to merely awful! Candidates from the party’s progressive wing have won some House primaries! Republicans have not, in every single case, chosen candidates who are unelectable! The Russia investigation is a year old, and still nobody has been frog-marched out of the West Wing in chains! And Trump is still president!
Get a grip, people. Try to focus. The November election is too important, and the political terrain too advantageous, for Democrats to waste time on their customary defeatism.
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The Trump administration is dangerous, wrongheaded and inept, both domestically and abroad. Its corruption is staggering. Its corrosion of democratic norms is tragic. And it should be clear by now that the Republican-led Congress will do nothing to restrain a mercurial president who sets the nation’s agenda by what he “learns” from watching hours and hours of “Fox & Friends.”
If Democrats were in control of the House or the Senate, they could fulfill the responsibilities that Congress is given by the Constitution. They could conduct oversight. They could investigate, with subpoena power. They could protect special counsel Robert Mueller and allow him to follow evidence wherever it leads.
So yes, this midterm election is important. The Senate will be tough to flip, because of which seats are up this year, but Democrats can definitely take the House -- if they stay confident, think clearly and listen to the constituents whose votes they seek.
In varying proportions, midterm elections are always both national and local affairs. This year’s promises to be more national than usual, because of Trump, and that gives Democratic candidates a tremendous advantage.
In Gallup’s latest weekly report, Trump’s approval is at 43 percent. That’s the highest figure in more than a year, and well above Trump’s weekly low of 35 percent in mid-December. But still, it’s 43 percent -- well below Barack Obama’s 48 percent or Bill Clinton’s 51 percent at this point in their presidencies, and of course miles below George W. Bush’s astronomical post-9/11 numbers.
It is amusing to watch as journalists sally forth into Trumpland and return with the shocking news that Trump’s most avid supporters still like him. Of course they do. They are, duh, his supporters. But sophisticated observers, such as The Washington Post’s Dan Balz, have also detected a measure of weariness with all the chaos. Asked about Trump, one Minnesota voter told Balz that “I find myself drawing back a bit.”
Midterm elections often hinge on intensity -- which side is more motivated, more passionate. If you look at the massive protest mobilizations against Trump and his policies since he took office, along with the huge pro-Democratic shifts we’ve seen in special elections, you have to conclude that Democrats have a big advantage in intensity. Recall 2010, when Tea Party fervor generated a Republican wave that swept away the comfortable Democratic majority in the House.
That is why Republicans are trying so desperately to find some rallying cry that can generate similar enthusiasm among the GOP base. The latest is impeachment -- the idea, being pushed by Trump, that if Democrats take the House they will promptly try to impeach him, even though no crime has been committed. (I know you’re shocked that Trump makes this all about him.)
The Democratic leadership is trying to squelch loose talk of impeachment, but Republicans are going to keep sounding the false alarm. If this boosts GOP intensity, Democrats will just have to raise theirs even higher.
It’s not as if Democrats lack material to work with. The ethical lapses, violations and outright outrages by Trump administration officials make this the swampiest presidency since Warren Harding’s. Trump’s economic policies punish the poor, the working class and all of our grandchildren so that the wealthy can have nicer vacations and bigger yachts. His initiatives on immigration, the environment and a host of other issues seek to defy the national consensus.
Midterm elections are also part local. There are 435 House contests, and obviously no cookie-cutter candidate or campaign will suit all of them.
Democrats should worry less about whether a given primary candidate is progressive or centrist and more about whether he or she can connect with voters in that particular district. Period.
Stop fretting about possible battles next year. Remember that an ideological debate within a House majority isn’t a problem. It’s a byproduct of winning.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.