This post appeared on the richardhowe.com blog on Feb. 16, 2017, and is reposted here with permission.
I’m thinking this morning, What’s wrong with this picture? President Trump, less than a month in office, has everyone talking about him and his White House crew. He continues to suck all the media oxygen out of the air. The mainstream media, including cable TV political reporters, have gone back to their respective corporate corners (NY, LA, mostly) and are talking to themselves and the elected crowd in Washington, DC., a big mistake when you remember how badly they assessed the presidential contest. Instead of broadcasting or filing newspaper reports from Idaho, Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Western Pennsylvania, they are yakking their talking-heads off about the latest Trump policy move or his Twitter droppings. They will never ignore the coastal high-population centers, but attention must be paid, to quote a playwright, to the people in the middle of the country.
And the national Democrats are falling into the same pattern, revving up responses to Trump instead of shaping and promoting a counter-narrative of values and policies. They should have learned that saying BAD TRUMP until they are out of breath and out of advertising money is not going to work any better now than it did last fall. The voting public that was not with Trump does not need reinforcement. Trust me, as he would say, they are not going there. (But if he really was smart, Trump would be floating proposals for the trillion-dollar program to rebuild America that he promised and letting all the voters know that he intends to push his plan for term limits for serving in Congress, House and Senate.) The Democrats need a policy package by the summer, coming fast, that will be their version of the GOP’s old “Contract With America”—a distillation of their priorities at the federal level that will be the basis of their challenge to the Republicans as a group, tying Trump to the Congressional majority, in the fall of 2018.
In a way, this Trump-Russia scandal could be the worst thing to happen to the Democrats in Washington. It will suck staff time, media minutes, and money toward the black hole of dysfunction that is Trump’s administration. This goes for the state level Democrats also. The activists must stay focused on their own state houses and not get swept up into marching against Trump every other month. Don’t take eyes off the base at home. Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters in Kansas and Michigan will cheer on his disruptive tactics and not waver in their GOP support. Among other victories, the GOP is close to wrapping up the theft of a Supreme Court appointment, for which there will be no penalty. Senate Majority Leader McConnell was gloating on TV this week, saying the November election was not a change election for Congress. Look, he said, Republicans got returned with the majority here. People wanted change in the presidency, he added, but not on Capitol Hill.
The Democrats need to focus on their own story. Trump is happy when everybody follows his strokes. Avoid that sand trap.