Milbank: Democrats are setting themselves up to lose
WASHINGTON – President Trump's job approval rating fell to just 33 percent in a Gallup poll this week. One of his campaign aides pleaded guilty in the Russia probe and two more were indicted. Republicans are fighting over their tax plan, increasing the odds of yet another legislative debacle.
It would seem that the midterm election is the Democrats' to lose. And you can be sure they will try their best to do exactly that.
Democrats seldom miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Several recent incidents of self-sabotage have already proven the great Will Rogers adage: "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat."
Rich guy Tom Steyer gets October's Rogers Prize for turning one of the Democrats' most unifying themes (the singular disaster that is Trump) into a source of discord. He launched a petition drive, backed by advertising, pressuring Democratic candidates to go on record supporting the impeachment of Trump and committing to "remove him from office at once." Pretty much no Democrat thinks Trump should be in the White House, but even perfect unanimity among Democrats for impeachment won't remove Trump. And the Steyer "pledge" just might prevent Democrats from winning in Trump-friendly districts they need to retake the House.
First runner-up for the Rogers Prize for Democratic Entropy is Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who nearly salvaged Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare with his ill-timed "Medicare for All" rollout. The attempt to get Democrats to commit to single-payer health care, and particularly the attempt by some Sanders advisers to make it a litmus test for Democrats, provided a welcome diversion for Republicans at a time when they were feeling intense heat for their votes to take insurance from millions. Democrats are now fighting about an ideal solution that has no chance of becoming law for at least three years.
Second runner-up for the Democratic Chaos Prize is Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, D-Calif., the fifth-ranking House Democrat, who just called for House Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi, Steny H. Hoyer and James E. Clyburn to step down after next year's election. "There comes a time when you need to pass that torch, and I think it's time," she said on C-SPAN. It's not a crazy idea to say Democrats need younger leaders, but Sanchez's call to make these ducks lame halfway through the current Congress causes more disunity and distraction.
And honorable mention goes to Tom Perez, the Democratic National Committee chairman. When Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., delivered his passionate denunciation of Trump on the Senate floor last week, he validated the Democrats' case against Trump. Yet Perez chose to attack … Flake. "His retirement is a symbol of a Republican Party whose leaders allow Donald Trump's divisive politics to flourish as long as it serves their political interests, and who fail to criticize this dangerous president until it's too late," Perez said of the early and outspoken critic of Trump. The malpractice baffled John Weaver, the anti-Trump Republican who advised John Kasich during his 2016 presidential run. "They can have the left and the center, but for some reason the leadership of the DNC doesn't want that," Weaver told me.
Nor apparently, do a number of Democrats. They've struggled so far to come up with a clear midterm election message – Health care for all! Make the rich pay their fair share! A living wage! – that would give people a reason to vote for Democrats rather than just against Trump. House Minority Leader Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer attempted to roll out just such a populist, aspirational agenda earlier this year – and it was immediately ridiculed on the left because of its name ("A Better Deal"), and it quickly disappeared.
I called some of my favorite strategists, both Republican and Democrat, for this column, to see how they thought the Party of Rogers would, as one Democratic operative put it, "seize defeat from the jaws of victory." Bernie backers and "establishment" types will chop each other to pieces in primaries even if their ideology is much the same. Democrats will overplay the Russia scandal rather than simply letting special counsel Robert S. Mueller III do his job.
Underfunded party committees won't vet the flood of new candidates, some of whom will turn out to have played guitar in nudist colonies. And Democrats will struggle, as out-of-power parties do, with the absence of a leader.
Of course, Trump has generated such destruction that Democrats might win the House in 2018 despite their best efforts to screw things up. But when it comes to self-immolation, nobody holds a candle to them.