The Mueller report gave Democrats their worst possible outcome at the worst possible time. Trump’s effective exoneration dashed Democrats’ two-year expectation that their animosity against this president would be publicly justified. Stoking their frustrations now only reinforces their rush into a congressional strategy America opposes, and sets them up to take an even harder left turn going into 2020’s presidential contest.
Democrats must scour the Mueller report to find something — anything — that will let them cling to their belief that Trump stole the 2016 election. They will, because it is more palatable than admitting that they lost it. But even more, they will because liberals will not let them relinquish that narrative.
Liberals are too invested in their belief that Trump should be impeached to change it, despite the Mueller report’s outcome. So they must find something that allows them to cling to it. They will therefore task the Democrats with finding it. Now.
This pushes Democrats into two errors leading up to the 2020 presidential election, the latter likely proving fatal to their hope of beating Trump in 2020.
The first mistake will be Democrats’ continuation of their hearing and investigation strategy. The Mueller probe gave impetus to this. The implication that this presidency was tainted allowed Democrats to pursue multiple inquiries, but it was the Russian collusion accusations’ underlying taint that made everything seem fair game. Now in a flash, they have gone from taint to “t’ain’t nothing there,” and with it is gone their cover.
Democrats find themselves stuck with a failed strategy; however, their base demands they not simply continue the current course, but expand it, picking up where Mueller left off. America disagrees. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, Americans oppose such action
Ordinarily, dropping a policy with a two-to-one negative public perception would be an easy decision. However, the numbers inside the numbers show why it is not for Democrats. The poll showed Democrats favored further investigation of collusion charges 49 to 41 percent. Worse, liberals were even more so — 54 percent favoring.
Both want a doubling-down on a course Democrats should abandon double-quick. Continuing to pursue it against two-to-one odds is the logic of a gambler seeking to get even on a losing night.
But Democrats must keep betting on long-shots because their base insists. As a recent Gallup poll showed, liberals now constitute the majority of the Democrat Party. When a majority of your majority say “yes,” it is very hard to say “no.”
This leads Democrats to their even bigger problem. By playing into their weakness, they are playing into Trump’s hands. Pursuing an unpopular congressional strategy now primes them for an even more dangerous 2020 one.
Although a plurality of Democrats and a majority of liberals want congressional collusion investigations to continue, Rasmussen states that “62 percent of voters not affiliated with either major political party think congressional Democrats should move on.” Although only slightly higher than the percentage of the overall electorate holding that sentiment, the key is how these unaligned voted in 2016.
According to 2016 exit polling, Trump beat Clinton 46 percent to 42 percent among Independents. Of course, that was before Mueller’s two-year investigation. The investigation undoubtedly hurt Trump with these voters. With that pall removed, Trump has an unobstructed opening to them again. Democrats seeking to continue an investigation Independents already consider — and explicitly want — closed, further widens it.
These Independents will determine 2020’s outcome, just as they did 2016’s. Partisan voters will overwhelmingly support their party’s candidate. Independents will decide the tilt of the electoral scale. As 2016 showed, they already had their finger on the scale for Trump. Should Democrats insist on going against Independents on congressional collusion investigations — with a strong economy and incumbency already working against them — the Independents’ finger could get even heavier for Trump.
The final factor is frustration. Mueller’s report already devastated Democrat expectations. According to Rasmussen: “As recently as December of last year, 65 percent of Democrats thought Mueller’s probe was likely to lead to criminal charges against President Trump.” To then see further congressional investigations overwhelmingly opposed by the broader electorate — with little chance of success — likely frays patience to breaking.
The response could well be to move their primary field further to the left, ensuring their nominee comes from its extreme. This leftward drift was clear in 2016, when Sanders pushed Clinton — not the other way around. Democrats’ 2020 already steeply slants that way. Further frustration from Washington will only increase it.
President Trump will unquestionably facilitate this. His exultation over Mueller’s report is just the latest example. While a high-road response would have been a better long-term strategy, his short-term one of gloating and goading can work too. Having Democrats drive Independents toward him has the same effect as him attracting them. After all, 2020 is already near-term and getting nearer by the day.
J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987-2000.