Under Plan A, Democrats convinced themselves they would never have to run against Trump in 2020, or, that he would limp to the finish line so battered, with the country in such shambles, that it would be no contest.
We saw what could be Plan A’s final act when Robert Mueller’s testimony, scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed until July 24, ostensibly to give Democrats more time to ask questions. By the time he testifies, it will be close to four months since the report was released (and Mueller has insisted he will say nothing beyond what is in the report anyway). There is no better example of how massive a failure the Dems’ attempt to oust, derail, or impeach Trump has been.
Sure, there’s still time on the clock, but even the loyal fans are leaving their seats early. They remember similar collapses of Stormy Daniels’ story line (that case is now “dormant”), the emoluments clause (Trump just won a major case here), in addition to his hidden taxes, Puerto Rico, the National Enquirer, Kavanaugh, security clearances, Putin’s secret agent stuff, all the president’s flipping men, and the end of NATO. Democratic strategists are left hoping a convicted pedophile saves them with dirt on Trump, or maybe Mueller breaks out in Tourette’s Syndrome at his someday hearing and demands impeachment. You can only announce the world is ending 7 or 8 or 27 times before people start to have doubts.
The incessant hyperbole has left the electorate numb. It reached its anti-peak (for now) on July 4, when a garbled speech by the president was whipped into “Tanks on the Mall” and a rehearsal for “Triumph of the Will II: More Triumphant.” Detainee facilities became concentration camps, with America pitched as the new “Wiemar” to Millennials still searching for “Wiemar,” misspelled, in Wikipedia.
Instead, the economy is strong. Wages are up. Job reports are robust. Stocks are at all-time highs. Trump is polling the best in his tenure, and matches Obama at this same point in his presidency. And here are 12 economic models showing how incumbents under similar economies won re-election.
Of the many other disasters the Democrats hoped for —race war, civil war, war with China/Iran/North Korea/Venezuela, all the end-of-democracy stuff —Trump didn’t start the fire. There has been no Washington-led regime change in Libya triggering massive refugee flows and resetting EU political balances. Trump is likely to be the first president since WWII not to start a new conflict while in office.
The Democrats need a Plan B. That appears to be Joe Biden, essentially a test crash dummy with “Not Trump” written on its face in Sharpie, a candidate with all the energy of one of those animatronic presidents from Disneyland. No voter will fall in love with Joe, be impassioned by him or whatever message he gets around to. Biden is someone to settle for. That makes turnout a problem. Remember the Gore, and then Kerry, juggernauts which failed to defeat an empty George W. Bush?
All in a way a shame, because the current primary is the one the Dems should have had in 2015. Had the DNC not put in the fix for Hillary, it is more than possible Biden (or Bernie) would have beaten Trump. In 2016, neither carried the progressive baggage and purple state fears to the degree they do now. Plus, they would have run against the theoretical Trump, the really scary one who was going to start all those wars, implement Handmaiden’s Tale, and wreck the economy, instead of the noisy but in the end mediocre Trump of record.
So on to Plan C, “Operation Fresh Faces.” That gets off to a slow start with Bernie. In 2015 he was full of transformational ideas, now diluted into the mainstream so you can support the gist of Bernie and not have to explain to your friends why you’re voting for a Seinfeld outtake.
The rest seem to be devoted to alienating as many mainstream voters as possible. Kamala Harris (along with Warren, Sanders, and others) wants to eliminate employer-based health insurance, something over 70 percent of Americans who have such insurance are satisfied with. Only 13 percent of Americans prefer a system with no private plans. Are the Dems going forward with a 13 percent policy idea? Or will they try (again) to sell a flawed Obama-era insurance program as the gold standard?
All the Dem candidates are also sure the economy is a mess. Yet a poll shows 71 percent of Americans say the economy is very or somewhat good. At the debates, several candidates advocated for gun confiscation. All promoted restriction-free abortions when the majority of Americans see the issue as more nuanced. Harris made 1970s discussions of school busing a centerpiece while the other candidates happily promoted open borders and free healthcare for illegal immigrants. And that was on the smart night: the earlier debate featured talk about publicly-funded abortions for pregnant trans men. The answers on most other topics sounded like they’d been run past HR first.
Cory Booker is now campaigning to be your best friend if you’ll choose him as VP. His latest move as Mayor of Crazytown was a stunt where he led deported migrants, Moses-like, back into the U.S.
Kamala Harris imagines herself a contender, unaware she will likely lose the chance even at VP when the party asserts itself for Biden, who she has had in the crosshairs from the start. Or maybe the party will choose Warren, who is a woman of free-dom—free college, free medical care, a magic wand to do away with $1.5 trillion in student loans, maybe a pony for the kids. And everyone loves reparations. Who’ll pay for all this? Um, “the wealthy.”
Mayor Pete? He hoped to run as a warrior, smiting LGBT hate at every step when most non-media people just tuned him out. He confessed to failing to fix the police force in South Bend, a wan admission when you’re asking to run the whole country. Buttigieg has his own give away, the (Frederick) Douglass Plan, which includes $10 billion for black entrepreneurs, $25 billion for black colleges, and a goal to reduce the prison population by half. He stresses this is in addition to the reparations he also supports.
Alongside all this, the Pelosi-AOC sideshow inspires little confidence in how a Democratic government would get anything done post-2020.
Who is going to vote for these people? Harris in particular made an aggressive move to alienate purple voters, putting Americans on trial for views they held in the past on things like busing. Joe Biden stood in for everyone who may have felt one way then, and another way now, but realizes in 2019 they are being teed up as the enemy. There’s no answer possible in 2019 when you’re called a racist; it ends every discussion. A purple voter may legitimately wonder how they might be treated under a Harris administration. Is it payback time? It seems a very short-sighted strategy for a candidate, an even worse one for a leader.
A lot can change in the 15 months until the election, but will it? Trump is Trump is Trump. Anyone studying his first years in office unemotionally knows outside the daily faux-atrocities, he is mostly about tweets. He is very good at sounding like a Red State warrior while actually doing little. Expect more of the same; after all, it has worked so far.
That leaves Plan D. No matter what the media will say, Texas and Georgia are not in play for a national election. Neither are California and New York. The election rests with purple voters in a handful of states. Yet the Democratic party seems to think it can win without any of the 35 percent of Americans who call themselves moderates. It’s the same bubble that takes Twitter as real life, “likes” for votes, and believes Dems should all be running for president of social media. That’ll just end up with as many surprised by the results in 2020 as were in 2016.
The party’s last hope is to hope there are enough Trump Haters who will vote for whoever the Dems shovel up, to overcome the purple voters who either stay home, or are so frightened of what progressives have in store they will treat Trump as the devil they know.
Trump as the safe candidate—think about how that came to be. For those keeping score, it is 100 points for Slytherin at this point.
Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99%.