The Democratic nominee, whoever it turns out to be, should use the president’s contortions and carrying-on against him.
The person most capable of defeating Donald Trump is Donald Trump. If Democrats are smart, they will let him do the job.
President Trump thrives on outrage and resentment. He seethes with it, stirs it in others and mines it for his own political profit. His political project relies on driving Americans to their cultural and ideological corners. He is Pavlov. We are the dogs.
Mr. Trump’s serial assaults on the decency and the decorum upon which civil society depends are enraging — and meant to be. It is only natural to respond to his every provocation with righteous indignation.
My advice to the Democratic nominee next year is: Donʼt play.
Wrestling is Mr. Trump’s preferred form of combat. But beating him will require jiu-jitsu, a different style of battle typically defined as the art of manipulating an opponent’s force against himself rather than confronting it with one’s own force.
Mr. Trump was elected to shake things up and challenge the political establishment. And to many of his core supporters, his incendiary dog whistles, bullhorn attacks and nonstop flouting of “political correctness” remain energizing symbols of authenticity.
But polling and focus groups reflect a growing unease among a small but potentially decisive group of voters who sided with Mr. Trump in 2016 but are increasingly turned off by the unremitting nastiness, the gratuitous squabbles and the endless chaos he sows.
Plenty of attention has been paid to the historic shift in suburban areas Mr. Trump narrowly carried in 2016 but that broke decisively with his party last fall. That revolt was led by college-educated white women, who overwhelmingly turned against Republican candidates.
But what should be of even greater concern to Mr. Trump is the potential erosion among the non-college-educated white women he is counting on as a core constituency. Those women gave Mr. Trump a 27-point margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Yet in a recent Fox News poll, Mr. Trump was beating former Vice President Joe Biden by just four points in that group.
If I were sitting in the Trump war room, this number, more than any other, would alarm me. He won the presidency by the slimmest of margins in three battleground states. With little place to grow, even a small erosion of support among these women could prove fatal to Mr. Trump’s chances. While they are inclined to many of his positions, the thing that is driving these voters away is Mr. Trump himself.
And one thing we can be sure of as the election approaches: Donald Trump is not going to change.
Given that Mr. Trump’s approval rating has been hovering around 40 percent throughout his presidency, his obvious and only strategy is to turn his dial further into the red. He will try to raise the stakes by painting the election as a choice between himself and a radical, left-wing apocalypse. He will bay about
- open bordersand
- “deep state” corruption
and relentlessly work to inflame and exploit racial and cultural divides.
But as Mr. Trump seeks to rev up his base, he also runs a significant risk of driving away a small but decisive cohort of voters he needs. His frenetic efforts to create a panic over the immigrant caravan in the days leading up to the 2018 midterms may have stoked his base, but it also generated a backlash that contributed to major losses for his party.
With everything on the line and nothing, to his mind, out of bounds, the same dynamic will be in play in 2020, and this creates an opportunity for Democrats — if their party’s message allows Trump defectors to comfortably cross that bridge.
There is a legion of arguments on moral, ethical and policy grounds for Mr. Trump’s defeat, and that’s leaving out the sheer incompetence. But the most effective question for Democrats to get voters to ask is simply whether the country can survive another four years like this.
Can we continue to wake each day to the tweets and tantrums, the nasty, often gratuitous fights and the ensuing turmoil that surrounds this president? Can we make progress on issues of concern to the way millions of people live their lives with a leader who looks for every opportunity to divide us for his own political purposes? And is a Trump freed of the burden of re-election really going to be less combative and more constructive in a second term? Um, no.
Each time Mr. Trump lashes out, as he will with increasing ferocity and frequency as the election approaches, these questions will gain more resonance. Every erratic escalation — every needless quarrel, firing or convulsive policy lurch — will provide additional evidence in the case for change.
Mr. Trump’s impulse is always to create a binary choice, forcing Americans to retreat to tribe. He wants to define the battle around divisive cultural issues that will hem in his supporters, and it would be seductive for Democrats to chase every tweeted rabbit down the hole. The president would welcome a pitched battle over lines of race, ideology and culture.
But while Mr. Trump’s thermonuclear politics may rally both his base and Democrats who slumbered in 2016, it is the paralyzing disorder and anxiety his bilious behavior creates that is a distressing turnoff to voters at the margins who will make the difference.
To win, the Democrats will have turn Mr. Trump’s negative energy against him without embodying it themselves.
There are a lot of similarities between the president and George Wallace of Alabama. But there’s also one big difference.
President Trump’s political rallies are certainly a spectacle, but a spectacle we’ve seen before. In both style and substance, the president’s campaign appearances bear strong resemblances to the rallies held a half-century ago by Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama.
There are a number of similarities between the two politicians’ rallies. But there is one significant difference — and it shows how Mr. Trump remains a greater danger and poses a graver threat to peaceful political discourse, especially as we enter a presidential election campaign.
Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Wallace presented himself as the political champion of aggrieved working-class and middle-class whites. As governor, he embodied the cause of segregationist resistance, literally standing in the schoolhouse door to block the first black students at the University of Alabama and figuratively standing against what he called the “civil wrongs bill.”
Yet in his repeated campaigns for the presidency between 1968 and 1976, despite today’s consensus to the contrary, Mr. Wallace didn’t make open appeals to racism. Instead, he couched opposition to the civil rights movement — both his own opposition and that of whites in the North and South alike — in new terms. Taking aim at liberals in government and leftist protesters in the streets, Mr. Wallace presented himself as the champion of ordinary Americans besieged by both. He promised then, as Mr. Trump has now, to restore “law and order” to a troubled nation.
While he lacks Mr. Wallace’s background in boxing, Mr. Trump has adopted a similar stance in his own rallies. He’s claimed some of Mr. Wallace’s specific phrases as his own
— most notably the call for “law and order” — and more generally has stoked the same fires of resentment and racism.
Mr. Wallace’s words electrified crowds of working- and middle-class whites. “Cabdrivers and cattle ranchers, secretaries and steelworkers, they hung on every word, memorized the lines, treasured them, savored them, waited to hear them again,” noted an Esquire profile. “George Wallace was their avenging angel. George Wallace said out loud what they nervously kept to themselves. George Wallace articulated their deepest fears, their darkest hates. George Wallace promised revenge.”
Mr. Trump has tapped into that sentiment, winning over white voters with a willingness to buck “political correctness” and voice their anger and anxieties directly. “He says what we’re thinking and what we want to say,” noted a white woman at a Trump rally in Montana. “We wish we could speak our mind without worrying about the consequences,” explained a white man at a Phoenix event. “He can speak his mind without worrying.”
Mr. Wallace’s rallies regularly erupted in violence, as his fans often took his words not just seriously but also literally. Mr. Wallace often talked about dragging hippies “by the hair of their head.” At a Detroit rally in 1968, his supporters did just that, dragging leftist protesters out of their seats and through a thicket of metal chairs. As they were roughed up, the candidate signaled his approval from the stage: “You came here for trouble and you got it.”
Mr. Trump’s rallies have likewise been marked by violence unseen in other modern campaigns. At a 2015 rally in Birmingham, Ala., for example, an African-American protester was punched, kicked and choked. Rather than seeking to reduce the violence from his supporters, Mr. Trump rationalized it, saying “maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
This leads us to the significant difference between Mr. Wallace and Mr. Trump. Mr. Wallace’s targets were, for the most part, presented in the abstract. Though he denounced broad categories of generic enemies — “agitators,” “anarchists” and “communists” — he rarely went after an individual by name.
Mr. Trump, in pointed contrast, has used his rallies to single out specific enemies. During the 2016 campaign, he demonized his political opponents in the primaries and the general election, and also denounced private individuals, from Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News anchor, to the former Miss Universe Alicia Machado and the federal judge Gonzalo Curiel.
At recent rallies, he has targeted four Democratic House members who have criticized him and his administration — Representatives Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley.
Participants at Mr. Trump’s rallies have been moved to attack individuals he’s singled out. For most rally participants, the attacks have been confined to ominous but nevertheless nonviolent chants — from the 2016 cries of “Lock her up!” to the recent refrain of “Send her back!” But a handful have gone further, targeting the individuals named by the president with death threats and even attempts at violence.
In late 2018, a Trump supporter, Cesar Sayoc Jr., mailed pipe bombs to high-profile Democrats and media figures who had criticized the president and whom the president had denounced in return. After his arrest, Mr. Sayoc explained that Mr. Trump’s rallies had become “a newfound drug” for him and warped his thinking. “In the lead up to the 2018 midterm elections,” Mr. Sayoc’s lawyers added last week, “President Trump warned his supporters that they were in danger from Democrats, and at times condoned violence against his critics and ‘enemies.’”
Since the midterms, Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and the threats from his supporters have only intensified. In March, a Trump backer in New York was arrested on charges of threatening to “put a bullet” in Ms. Omar’s “skull.” In April, a Trump supporter in Florida was arrested on charges of making death threats to Ms. Tlaib and two other Democrats. This month, two police officers in Louisiana were fired over a Facebook post suggesting that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez should be shot.
As the 2020 campaign heats up, the president’s rhetoric will as well. It’s long past time that he started worrying about the consequences of his words.
Men are being held accountable — and it has them mad as hell
This is why, I suspect, these men become so shocked and enraged when they’re asked to answer for their actions: When they say “nothing happened,” it’s not just a denial — it’s that they truly believe the incident was not a big deal.
Yesterday, Kavanaugh was the face of that backlash — an avatar for entitled, white male rage in the U.S. Angry, sputtering, petulant — the judge could barely contain his fury over being expected to answer for himself. As Slate’s Lili Loofbourow put it: “This person does not seem to have a lot of experience coping with not getting what he wants.”
Instead of responding to questions directly, Kavanaugh repeated his professional and academic bonafides as if his elite background was proof of good character. When Senator Sheldon Whitehouse asked the judge about references in his high school yearbook about drinking to the point of vomiting, Kavanaugh responded, “I was at the top of my class academically.”
“Captain of the varsity basketball team,” he continued. “Got in Yale College. When I got into Yale College, got into Yale Law School.”
Don’t you know who I am?
.. When Sen. Amy Klobuchar — who prefaced her questions with anecdote about her own father’s alcoholism — asked Kavanaugh if he had ever blacked out, the judge snapped, “Have you?” Even after she repeated the question, once again Kavanaugh sneered: “I’m curious if you have.”
.. Alexandra Schwartz at the New Yorker called this behavior “a model of American conservative masculinity…directly tied to the loutish, aggressive frat-boy persona that Kavanaugh is purportedly seeking to dissociate himself from.”
.. And, as is often the case with frat boys, Kavanaugh’s brothers had his back. One after another, the male Senators gave emotional apologies to the judge for even having to be there, bemoaning the loss of his life and reputation. Like Kavanaugh, they were appalled that the judge was expected to explain himself.
As if the possibility of him not ascending to the Supreme Court — and just continuing to serve on the second most important court in the country — would be a travesty. As if Kavanaugh was owed a smooth, unquestioned, path to whatever he wanted.
.. he hearing stopped being about Blasey Ford’s experience or even Kavanaugh’s fitness for the job, and instead became a stage for broader and bitter male resentment — furious over the seemingly new expectation of accountability, and raging over not immediately being given what was promised to them.
.. Even as women calmly and expertly explain the ways in which men have hurt us, our pain is immediately drowned out and glossed over by men’s belief that they should not have to answer to us, of all people.
.. My optimistic side would like to think that yesterday was the last loud gasp of a dying patriarchy, an astounded sexist minority trying its best to rebel against an emerging feminist majority. The less hopeful part of me, though — the part that still thinks quite a lot about America’s history of choosing poorly between a measured, informed woman and a belligerent, snapping man
When White House aides raised the issue with Judge Kavanaugh, he adamantly denied it and told them he did not even remember her.
.. They did what had never been done in a Supreme Court confirmation and put him on television to be interviewed, choosing Mr. Trump’s favorite network, Fox News.
Judge Kavanaugh, joined by his wife, seemed flat and mechanical as he retreated to the same talking points denying the allegations. Mr. Trump, who styles himself a master of television, thought his nominee came across as weak. Getting the clip of him denying the charges into the media spin cycle was important, but it was not enough.
.. The tide seemed to turn, oddly enough, when a third woman emerged with even more extreme allegations. Michael Avenatti, a brash and media savvy California lawyer who has been careening from one Trump administration brush fire to another, produced a statement from a woman alleging that Judge Kavanaugh in high school attended parties where women were gang raped. The woman, Julie Swetnick, said she was herself gang raped at one such party, though not by the judge.
Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, rushed to the floor to insist that “Judge Kavanaugh should withdraw from consideration.”
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a key swing Republican, was so troubled that she took a copy of Ms. Swetnick’s statement, highlighted and marked up, to a meeting of Republican committee chairmen. Senator John Cornyn of Texas went through it point by point with her to debunk it.
.. The Republican senators got into a lengthy conversation about Mr. Avenatti and how he could not be trusted and concluded that Ms. Swetnick’s claims did not add up. Why would she as a college student repeatedly go to high school parties where young women were gang raped? No one came forward to corroborate the allegation, and news reports surfaced about past lawsuits in which Ms. Swetnick’s truthfulness was questioned.
“This was a turning point,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “That allegation was so over the top, it created a moment that was scary, quite frankly. But that moment was quickly replaced by disgust.”
The involvement of Mr. Avenatti, who represents Stephanie Clifford, the former porn star known as Stormy Daniels, particularly galvanized Republicans, reinforcing the idea that the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh were a political setup. One Republican congressional official called Mr. Avenatti’s involvement “manna from heaven.” From the other side, a Democratic congressional official called it “massively unhelpful.”
the notion that Mr. Avenatti tipped the scale was “wishful thinking” by Republicans who were bent on confirming Judge Kavanaugh at all costs.
.. credited Ms. Swetnick’s story with forcing Republicans to request an abbreviated F.B.I. investigation. “If it would have just been Dr. Ford,” he said, “I don’t think the investigation takes place.”
.. But Judge Kavanaugh’s angry outburst rallied Republicans. He went so far in expressing rage that he blamed the allegations on a plot to take “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” and he sharply challenged two of the Democratic senators about their own drinking.
During a break, Mr. McGahn told him he had to dial it back and strike a calmer tone. When he returned to the committee room, Judge Kavanaugh moderated his anger and apologized to one of the senators.
.. When Mr. Durbin asked Judge Kavanaugh to turn around and ask Mr. McGahn to request an F.B.I. investigation into the charges against him, Mr. Graham erupted in a ferocious, finger-wagging lecture. Other Republican senators began channeling their inner Trump and lashing out on Judge Kavanaugh’s behalf as well.
.. Ms. Collins said she would find it hard to vote yes without a sworn statement from Judge Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge denying that he saw what Dr. Blasey described.
.. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary chairman, got a fresh statement from Mr. Judge within three hours to satisfy her.
.. the three joined other Republican senators in Mr. McConnell’s office to discuss what the F.B.I. investigation should look like. The three undecided Republicans settled on four people they wanted to hear from
Ms. Ramirez, Mr. Judge and two others identified by Dr. Blasey as being elsewhere in the house at the time she was allegedly assaulted.
.. That night Mr. Graham went to dinner at Cafe Berlin with Ms. Collins, Mr. Flake and Ms. Murkowski. They discussed whether a limited F.B.I. investigation might assuage them.
The list of four witnesses they selected, however, later struck Democrats as so constrained that they demanded a more expansive investigation. In the end, the F.B.I. interviewed 10 people, but not many others Democrats recommended.
.. Ms. Murkowski was struggling with what to do. She asked the committee staff to question Judge Kavanaugh’s friends about their understanding of terms from his yearbook like “boofing” and “Devil’s Triangle” to see if they matched his.
.. “The tactics that were used completely backfired,” said Mr. McConnell. “Harassing members at their homes, crowding the halls with people acting horribly, the effort to humiliate us really helped me unify my conference. So I want to thank these clowns for all the help they provided.”
.. Less helpful may have been Mr. Trump’s decision to mock Dr. Blasey during a rally in Mississippi
.. White House aides insisted that the president’s outburst fortified Republicans... Trump and other Republicans accused sex-crime victims protesting Kavanaugh as protesters paid by George Soros.. The GOP Senate whip, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), called the victims a “mob” and echoed the bogus claim that they were paid protesters. They deny victims’ very existence; they are non-persons — props sent by opponents to ruin a man’s life... Graham snorted that he’d hear what “the lady has to say” and then vote Kavanaugh in.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he’d “plow right through” (more like plow over) Ford’s testimony and confirm Kavanaugh.
Republicans’ defense of Kavanaugh — that Ford and others were props of a left-wing plot and therefore lacked agency of their own — evidences the party’s attitude toward women.
.. You cannot say a party that embraces a deeply misogynistic president who bragged about sexually assaulting women and mocked and taunted a sex-crime victim; accepted a blatantly insufficient investigation of credible sex crimes against women in lieu of a serious one that the White House counsel knew would be disastrous; repeatedly insulted and dismissed sex-crime victims exercising their constitutional rights; has never put a single woman on the Judiciary Committee (and then blames its own female members for being too lazy); and whips up male resentment of female accusers is a party that respects women.
.. What’s worse is that Republicans who would never engage in this cruel and demeaning behavior themselves don’t bat an eye when their party’s leaders do so. Acceptance of Trump’s misogyny — like their rationalization of the president’s overt racism — becomes a necessity for loyal Republicans.
.. One either agrees or ignores or rationalizes such conduct, or one decide it’s a small price to pay (“it” being the humiliation of women) for tax cuts and judges. It’s just words, you know.
.. The Republican Party no longer bothers to conceal its loathing of immigrants, its contempt for a free press, its disdain for the rule of law or its views on women. Indeed, these things now define a party that survives by inflaming white male resentment. Without women to kick around, how would they get their judge on the court or their guys to the polls?