I have said that if 2020 is a referendum on President Trump, he could very well lose. But for the election to be a referendum, the Democrats must be steady and low-key and avoid affirmatively alarming the electorate. Yet with matters large and small, the Democrats keep shooting themselves in the foot — or maybe even in the head. Trump is lucky in the opponents he has.
To be fair, I am not a Democrat, and I do not always understand the way they think. But it seems to me that if Democrats just stuck to business, talked about jobs, the economy and health care, they would be offering a safe contrast to the president and strengthening their position in the process. Instead, they are consistently off-message.
First, the Democrats are just on the wrong side of common sense by challenging the Trump administration’s decision to ask whether someone answering the census is a citizen. Why not ask if the person being counted is an American? But in the Democrats’ case, they are playing to their own negative stereotype that any mention of citizenship might somehow offend an illegal immigrant or somehow might inhibit illegal immigration. The Democrats have added further evidence to the impression that they are affirmatively for illegal immigration, that they make no requirements of those who break the law to come here and that they make excuses even for those who commit crimes once they illegally enter the United States. Voters have noticed.
Next, you have Democratic presidential candidates such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) appearing on CNN stating their belief that violent felons ought to have the right to vote. Harris in particular looked flustered and flat-footed. Her performance was almost a parody of a stereotypical politician trying to avoid a question but finally offering an answer that could follow her for the rest of the campaign. When asked specifically if terrorists should be able to vote, Harris actually said, “We should have that conversation.” But as National Review noted, Harris said Tuesday that she would deprive the worst offenders of their rights, including terrorists — yet when asked specifically about the Boston Marathon bomber, she was noncommittal. I would love to hear her make her pitch to the Boston Marathon bomber as to why she deserves his vote. What are the things that he cares about that she will deliver once elected president? To put it plainly, most Americans would have no problem with the idea that the Boston Marathon bomber has forfeited his right to participate in America’s democracy.
To be clear, how Democrats feel about the census question and terrorists’ voting rights mostly contributes to the background noise of the campaign. But the Democrats’ aggressive maneuvering in the post-Mueller report world is consequential. Voters are tired of the two parties haranguing each other. Trump-Russia fatigue settled in a long time ago. Everybody has made up his or her mind about the president, the Russia connection and the Mueller report. Rather than put these matters on the back burner, the Democrats are splintering, arguing among themselves and feeding the media’s appetite for more Trump, Russia, impeachment, etc. Democrats will not get any new votes or any credit among independents for their undying pursuit of the faux Trump-Russia affair.
The Democrats seem determined to create distractions and alarm voters at the very time Trump appears to be more erratic and unpredictable than ever. His behavior is worrisome. It would be easy for the Democrats to offer a composed, measured contrast with that of an out-of-control, tweeting maniac, but Democrats just cannot help themselves any more than Trump can.
Neither political party nor any party’s leadership is particularly popular. In fact, they are objectively unpopular. According to RealClearPolitics, Congress’s approval rating averages 22.5 percent, while Trump’s approval averages 43.4 percent. And 56.4 percent of the country believes the United States is moving in the wrong direction. Democrats need to make a collective decision about whether they are going to mindlessly pursue Trump at every turn or limit the lurch left and begin to offer voters a contrast to Trump on both policy and style. Otherwise, the 2020 election is destined to be a contest between two unpopular characters, just as it was in 2016.