In a week chock-full of news, the party that on the night of Nov. 8 found itself, much to its surprise, very much out of power has been having difficulty finding a way to return.
Democratic senators, urged on by the left blogosphere and party activists, peppered Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch with hostile questions, but to no apparent effect. They have failed to raise fears that Gorsuch would vote to repeal the 44-year-old Roe v. Wade, and their argument that he is a shill for big corporations is an obvious dud.
But “the base” — or “the resistance,” as it calls itself, as if it were opposing Hitler — is demanding all-out opposition, including a filibuster. In which case Republicans will eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees as Harry Reid and Democrats did in 2013 for lower-court and executive-branch nominees.
Republicans won’t hold their Senate majority forever, but they aren’t likely to lose it in 2018, when Democrats will defend 10 seats in states carried by Donald Trump and Republicans will defend only one in a Hillary Clinton state.
Democrats did gain — or retain — a talking point in the Monday House Intelligence hearings when FBI Director James Comey said that there’s an ongoing investigation of Russian ties with persons involved in the Trump campaign.
But none of them is in government now, and so far the Trump administration has done nothing to coddle Vladimir Putin. Moreover, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes revealed that there was “incidental” intelligence surveillance of Trump associates and that their names may have been disseminated. And Comey said that the dissemination of this classified information is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison.
A third issue, still pending as this is written, is whether House Republicans will pass the health care legislation, advertised as the first of three steps in repealing and replacing Obamacare, patched together by Speaker Paul Ryan and supported by President Donald Trump.
Party leaderships usually win votes like this, though sometimes it takes a three-hour roll call to squeeze out the last votes, as on the 2003 Medicare prescription-drug bill (whose market mechanisms, incidentally, have resulted in costs much lower than estimated by the Congressional Budget Office).
When House leaderships have failed to win such votes, as Democrats did in August 1994 and Republicans in September 2006, debacle at the polls in unanticipated proportions has followed in November, as Ryan and Trump have presumably been reminding wavering members.
Democrats are basically bystanders on this vote. Like the Republicans on Obamacare in 2009-10, their advice and support have not been sought. They note that some recent polling shows, for the first time, majority approval for Obamacare, and hope that dissatisfaction with what the Republicans pass — or fail to pass — will work to their benefit.
Maybe so. But it’s also possible that Democrats have missed a chance to expand rather than contract government-supported medicine, as Democratic (but pro-Trump on immigration) blogger Mickey Kaus argues, in calling for lowering Medicare eligibility to age 55.
Last-ditch opposition to Gorsuch, re-litigation of the Russian collusion charges aired already last fall and refusal of any engagement on health care — these are all positions demanded by a furious Democratic base, but which may harm rather than help the long-term interest of the Democratic Party.
Undoubtedly, some Democratic officeholders realize this but feel helpless to urge a different course, fearing the rage of angry and even violent crowds and the threat of primary opposition.
Even those with no sympathy for the Democratic base should be able to understand the causes for their rage. They believed, with some reason, that the Democratic Party had an advantage in presidential elections.
The theory that increasing numbers of nonwhite, single women and millennial voters would help Democrats, advanced in Ruy Teixeira and John Judis’ 2002 book and amplified by journalist Ronald Brownstein and pollster Stanley Greenberg, was over-interpreted. An advantage was seen as a guarantee.
Democrats came to believe that their party would always hold the White House. So Barack Obama decided to govern by pen and phone, ignoring the possibility that his executive orders could be rescinded by a Republican successor. Mainstream media took a Clinton win for granted and ignored the evidence that prompted FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver to give Trump a 1-in-3 chance of winning.
In retrospect, the belief in a Democratic lock on the presidency ill served the Democratic Party. And the rage triggered when that belief was shattered may not be serving it very well, either.