If you want a measure of the tawdriness of American politics, DC-online media style, consider the amount of attention piled on the Daniels-Cohen-Trump affair. Thirteen years ago, a reality TV star who can’t keep his cock in his pants gets off in Las Vegas with an actress who makes pornographic films, and we care about that? After all, he’s the president. The Justice Department and FBI raid the offices of the president’s attorney, to gather evidence for payment of hush money? This affair is beneath all of us. It is so far down the scale of importance, it is beneath the oaf who sits in the White House.
Yet the affair is important because the subtext, “Give him the hook,” underlies almost everything in Washington. “Not my president,” the unspoken reason for so many rumors and mysterious happenings in DC, also explains a lot of reports we read in our news feed. The amount of energy devoted to ridding the White House of a president who clearly won the election is amazing. Yet how many people have been like Judge Ellis, who rebuked Robert Mueller for going after Paul Manafort in order to unseat President Trump?
These doings do not impress people in the thirty states Trump won. They do not impress people sympathetic to Trump, or sympathetic to democratic processes, in the twenty states he lost. If you focus that much energy on the president’s premature removal, you do a lot to make a second term more likely. Trump praises Vladimir Putin’s longevity, and openly kids about a third term. You may say the Constitution prohibits that, but we have seen how tenderly leaders in Washington care about the Constitution. We have seen their contemptuous regard for any customary constraints on power, for that matter.
Let’s return to Daniels for a moment. You have to admire the way she and her attorney have gone after Trump. This makes Paula Jones vs. William Jefferson Clinton look like sandlot ball. Clinton governed during partisan acrimony as well, we may forget. His enemies made a point of impeaching him during his second term, though they knew he would remain in office no matter what they did. Was it a futile distraction? Depends who you ask. In any case, today’s battle between the Justice Department and White House enthralls political odds-makers. Wait till year’s end. If in November, Democrats win a majority in the House, we’ll have a new set of cards dealt.
Democrats will not have a two-thirds vote in the Senate to convict Trump of whatever charges they want to bring, but that did not stop Republicans in the late 1990s. They lost two Senate votes on articles of impeachment in 1999, with only 45 and 50 votes in favor of Clinton’s removal. Yet they set a precedent for impeaching a president over a sex scandal! If you vote on articles of impeachment based on Mueller’s discretionary investigation into a one-night stand, how do you think a senator with integrity – or party loyalty – will vote? I do not think that is a tough call.
Democrats will say, “Yes, but what about collusion?” Or emoluments? Or obstruction of justice? Or just plain lying? When you add all those things together, don’t we have a case? No, you do not. Meantime, Trump uses the powers of incumbency, and citizens’ sense of inertia, to sew up the 2020 election. Holman Jenkins has an article in the Wall Street Journal today, where he wonders whether the Donald could have won the Republican nomination if Hillary Clinton had not steamrolled Sanders and everyone else on her way to a preordained coronation. She even wore white as she delivered her acceptance speech.
I know, we only remark on the sartorial choices of women, not men. Yet if Ronald Reagan or Donald Trump had worn a white suit for their acceptance speeches, we would have noticed. The point here is not clothes and what they symbolize. The main question is, how much support did Trump garner, in state after state, because his opponent was Hillary Clinton? Multitudes did not want her in the White House. Multitudes do not want an establishment politician in the White House after 2020. To defeat an incumbent, you need someone inspirational. Ronald Reagan had been in politics for fifteen years when he ran against Carter, eight of them as governor of California, but he knew how to reach people. He did not radiate business as usual.
If Democrats do not find a special candidate to run in 2020, and Bill Weld runs for the libertarians, how many states do you think Trump will lose? Twenty seems a fairly high estimate in that case. You can easily put a dozen-plus blue states in the opposition column. Any candidate that loses both California and New York has a tough go, but incumbency carries weight. Every day people become more accustomed to the current occupant. Yet Democrats have cast about for multiple pretexts to remove Trump before the 2020 election, even though prospects for doing so are nil. At the last minute, perhaps they’ll turn to Michelle Wolf as their nominee to defeat Trump. Nasty vs. nasty should be the ticket.
Democrats did not acquit themselves well during the year and a half before election day in 2016. In Washington, you see Democrats and their allies in the media continue their distracted, ineffectual, self-defeating tactics. Contrast that with the practical efforts the progressive movement has mounted at state and local levels. Groups like Progressive Massachusetts, and similar organizations in every state, have shown how to practice politics, when national leaders do not actually lead. They work with no effective leadership from the national party. With no vision among national leaders, an incumbent strongman has a good chance to win, especially when resentment against Washington runs as high as it does.
Voters’ elemental message to DC in 2016 rang out pretty clearly: “Fuck you!!” We all deride Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan, yet non-Trumpians fail to parse or absorb a key part of the MAGA message. But for Washington, Trump’s supporters believe, America could be great again. They hold Washington’s pigs and cronies at the trough – Democrats, Republicans, and everyone else who sucks off the taxpayer’s teat – responsible for America’s descent into an inferior sty of corruption and futility. If Washington DC floated off toward Bermuda tomorrow, a lot of people would cheer as soon as it entered international waters. Let the Russians claim it.
Do you think voters elected Trump because he was a Republican? Hardly. They elected him for a lot of reasons, but they do not have to do with his party label. A large number of voters elected him because he was not Clinton. If you want to unelect him, your first strategy would not be to sic the Justice Department and the rest of the security state on him. That will not work, especially not if a dried-up sex scandal and poorly laundered hush money underpin your case. If you cannot find leaders who have a better strategy than that, close up your shop.