According to the Democrats in my Twitter feed, everything is terrible. Kids are ripped from their parents at the border (true), Trump is shredding 70 years of international order (yep, so it would seem). The Trump administration is embroiled in scandals up to the neck (no doubt). Fierce, large breasted women are suing the president (word!). Dour Robert Mueller is methodically indicting former Trump associates (preach!!). There are daily leaks from the White House about a man so full of idiosyncrasies he seems to have no real syncrasies (wait… what?). Meanwhile, Trump piss and vinegar dribble nightly over the hungry Twitterverse like so much vinaigrette.
When I hear a glowing pitch from someone with a startup idea my most important question is about expectations. “What if people react to your product with ‘that’s nice’ instead of reflexively handing you their MasterCard?” The first mistake entrepreneurs usually make is to believe everyone else is as concerned as they are about the problem they are trying to solve. They believe the problem so important and their solution so self-evidently revolutionary that it will sell itself.
For Democrats to win elections with the “Trump train wreck” narrative, it is not enough for a lot of things to be messy in Trump-world. Voters will need to care that things are icky. In particular the voters who shifted back and forth in swing districts will need to care. These are not urban liberals already invested in the narrative. They are probably not avid readers of news and politics. In fact, most people (present readers excepted) only care about Washington when they are feeling angsty – and the president’s behavior doesn’t really impact local elections as much as beltway pundits believe.
This is the problem for Democrats. All of the comparisons to Hitler, all of the sky is falling rhetoric, all of the breathless coverage of Trump’s mind boggling, inept, RealityTV’esque administration will not force people to feel anxious enough to come in your direction if their lives are unchanged by all the hubbub. What if… and this is the gut punch question… what if it turns out the new normal ain’t so bad?
Setting Themselves up for Failure
Having plan B doesn’t fit this story line. Democrats expect Trump to fold in upon himself like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon on Friday. They cannot believe anyone would prefer this circus. It doesn’t look like a strategy. They aren’t “playing the odds”. They are true believers. They look at the Trump administration and see noise and fury and the tearing down of norms. They cannot see anything that looks like strength or success or legitimacy.
In lock step with this narrative, media outlets (leaving Fox aside) play their part in decrying the administration. They roll their eyes, stomp their feet and point out all the ways things are terrible. They treat the public to a never ending deluge of semantic deconstruction of Trumpian hyperbole, doling out Pinocchio noses like they grew on trees. Yet not everyone feels outraged and upset. Democrats risk the label of “the boy who cried wolf” when they constantly predict disaster and it doesn’t materialize.
The elephant in the room? The economy. Democrats struggle to engage on an economy that appears sound in spite of Trump’s naive efforts to tank it. That grand, easy to understand echo is the hum of growth and low unemployment. The more nuanced picture of underlying weaknesses, which could be told, is a tough sell. Unemployment, this number we’ve talked about for a century, is at less than 4%. That’s a pretty loud megaphone that people understand directly. In my view neither Trump nor Obama should not get much credit for an upturn. But every administration hitchhikes on a good economy to claim policy success. Trump is no different, and in spite of Democratic claims that he’s cashing Obama’s residual check, Trump will get increasing credit the longer it lasts.