America's Left is doing worse than the Tories.
If the Tories are adrift in this strange new populist world, the Democrats are staging a real-time performance of Castaway. This week marked another set of electoral losses for the Democrats. They've gone 0-4 in special congressional elections this year, despite record spending and promises to take back the House of Representatives in the mid-terms next year. This is partially due to the fact that each one of these seats was vacated by a Republican in a right-leaning area.
In some cases, the candidate selection process has not helped; see, for example, Jon Ossoff in Georgia, the 30-year-old non-resident of his district who humbly described his campaign as "a beacon of hope for people across the country". Rather than throwing talent at difficult races, the strategy is to test a seemingly bulletproof argument for the mid-terms: Trump is a bad president, and any vote for a Republican is a vote for him. This is not a bad argument to make. Trump creates policy on the fly at his rallies, heading in the direction of whatever generates the most applause (heard the one about plastering the Mexican border wall with solar panels?). He called his own healthcare bill "mean". His itchy fingers deliver almost daily opportunities for constitutional crisis via Twitter.
The percentage of Americans who consider him to be doing a bad job matches the percentage who find aeroplane seats uncomfortable. And yet, 0-4. By their own logic, Democrats are playing tennis with the net down and still can't get the score past love. Reassuringly for democracy, they are failing to win votes because of the fundamental weakness of their argument. First and foremost, the Republican Party is not Donald Trump. The difficulty he's experienced in corralling the congressional caucus is proof enough that the party is not a hive mind controlled by the president.
This difficulty with the legislative agenda speaks to another uncomfortable truth for Democrats: their line of attack on the president cannot extend to his policies, because many of them have been co-opted from the left. Republicans in Congress, and the mainstream of the party that they represent, are deficit hawks who fundamentally believe that power given to the government is power taken away from individual citizens. Trump is a tax-and-spend, isolationist, pro-union, anti-trade fan of big state interventions.
His position on immigration (minus the racism) sounds remarkably like that of Bernie Sanders. He spent a large chunk of his adult life as a registered Democrat, voting for Democratic candidates and making big donations to the party. Unable to attack Trump the policymaker, the left has instead chosen to attack Trump the man. There is an astonishing amount of material available for this task. But it has been clear since November 9 that this is not a winning strategy either. As a nation, we have known far more than we wanted to about Trump for decades. His name is synonymous with garish overexposure. I cannot imagine that any adult in America voted for this man expecting a scholar or a gentleman - and so hearing that he does not like to read, watches hours of cable news a day, and bears the general comportment of a spoilt toddler is not sufficiently shocking to change hearts or minds.
Typically, mid-term elections bring ruinous results for the president's party (rare exceptions have come during moments of national crisis, such as the period following 9/11). The Left have been hopeful, even boastful, of their chances to win back the House next year because of this truism. Such a prize would bring the ability to stopper Republican legislative priorities and, most enticingly, to commence impeachment proceedings against Trump. But without an argument more persuasive (and less insulting) than "we're better people", they are unlikely to lure in any Republicans or independents wary of where the country is headed. This year's four special elections have been humiliating for the Democrats, and more pain is promised next November if they cannot learn another tune.
- The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2017
Molly Kiniry is a writer for The Sunday Telegraph.
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