So, Where Do Democrats Go From Here?
Yesterday, former President Donald Trump was acquitted by the US Senate on a vote of 57–43, with seven Republican Senators voting in favor of conviction on charges of starting the insurrection at the capitol. Of course, the defenses of Trump were often pathetic (Although a personal favorite of mine remains the “Attempted coup? I mean seriously now what even is that? Do they give a Nobel Prize in attempted Chemistry?” argument that was said non-stop on right-wing Twitter.) but that didn’t stop the majority of Republicans from going along with the nonsense. One Republican Senator, John Cornyn of Texas who was just re-elected in 2020, even admitted Trump’s defense was nonsense, but he still voted on their side. (Although that was in large part because he knew he couldn’t back Bruce Cantor’s Lionel Hutz style defense of the former President. Yes, I did two Simpsons references in the same paragraph — what about it?)
It’s important to note that Trump's influence in the Republican Party is still not going away for quite a while. Remember, Republicans still supported the policies of George W. Bush for years after Bush became the least popular President in United States history — even if they didn’t agree with the man himself. However, the fact that even a small number of Republican Senators voted to convict shows that Trump's influence in the Republican Party is nowhere near as strong as the Trump wing of Republicans would like it to be. Even some who voted against impeachment said they would support Trump being convicted by other means, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said:
President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen. Unless the statute of limitations has run, still liable for everything he did while he was in office. Didn’t get away with anything yet.
The fact that the top Senate Republican has to use a justification like this when defending a Republican President is a good sign. Remember this is Mitch “strong as Mule piss” McConnell we’re talking about, someone who does nothing but increases the power of the Republican Party. (This is the same man who refused to actually give Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer control over the Senate for a month.) If he won’t even defend the actions of a President he spent four years working for, then we know Trumpism is a passing fad.
Would McConnell support a conviction of Trump from the courts? Considering he’s done everything in his power to stop Garland from becoming Attorney General and has allowed Donald Trump to stack the lower courts in his favor, it’s likely he doesn’t think he’ll ever need to answer that question. McConnell has always gone in whatever direction the political winds blow, McConnell began his political career as a pro-choice pro-union Rockafeller Republican (even naming his cat “Rocky”) before becoming a hard-right ideologue as he got more and more power. Meaning he basically told us the political winds support a conviction of Trump, which is certainly a good thing both for Trump’s critics and those who want people to be skeptical of government as a whole.
However, Trump's critics need to be careful. One good thing Biden has done so far is not focus on Trump (remember, Obama was constantly criticized for blaming anything bad in the US on Bush). When Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked what Biden thought about conviction, she quite literally said that Biden didn’t care one way or the other about it because he’s too busy being President of the United States.
Here’s Psaki at a Press Conference on 2/8/2021 after being asked about the Trump conviction:
[Biden’s] no longer in the senate. He’s retired from the senate and he’s president of the United States and his focus is on getting relief to the American people and that’s exactly what he’s conveyed publicly, of course, and privately as well. He’ll leave it to his former colleagues in the Senate or members of the senate to determine the path forward.
This is a good move, many Trump critics were worried that Biden only won because of how bad Trump was, meaning if he failed to separate himself from Trump, a new Trump could come forward. Some even worried about Trump running for a second term in 2024, just as Grover Cleveland did in 1892. (Although Cleveland won the popular vote three more times than Trump did — just saying.) A number of Republicans in the front-running for 2024, such as Ron DeSantis, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, and Jim Jordan have all acted as Trump apologists for the past four years. For that matter, of the 2024 front-runners, only Nikki Haley has disowned Trump and Trumpism completely at this point in time.
As it stands, Biden has done a much better job governing than many commentators give him credit for. This is the man who currently sits at an approval rating of above 60%. His stimulus plan has a higher popularity rate even among Republicans than the Republican alternative for God’s sake. However, Biden still has to do everything possible to fight off the image of a senile old man (a large amount of the country think Vice-President Harris is running the show, remember) who was only elected because the former President was so awful. To put Biden’s goal as simply as possible, it should be that if Trump does run for a second term, it should look like Adlai Stevenson’s second attempt against Eisenhower in 1956.
The best thing he can do, and by that I mean the best thing the Democrats can do, is simple — they need to stop focusing on Trump. Over the past four years, the Democrats have gotten a bad reputation as mindless the resistance, quite literally deranged over anything and everything Trump does. Everything from how many scoops he gets of Ice Cream (“the more ice cream the better” is one of the few things Trump and Biden can agree upon) to how he eats his Steak to how many Diet Cokes he drinks in a day (“the more Diet Coke the better” is one of the few things Trump and I can agree upon) has been used against him by this or that Democrat. Personally, I feel the reputation is both undeserved and shows a massive misunderstanding of how politics works, but the reputation is there and they need to fight against it. (If some Democrats, especially Pelosi, can ever be fully removed from her battles with Trump is a different question, but the attempt is what’s important above all else.)
Biden’s agenda is actually rather popular, hence why he won more votes than any other President in US history. His policies currently poll well with the majority of the population, regardless of political affiliation. Democrats need to actually intact those policies, using the power they have, instead of focusing on Trump.
While on the topic of things they need to do, they also need to stop “reaching across the aisle.” Obama tried that time and time again, giving Republicans control of defense policy and immigration policy during his first two years, with his famous healthcare reform basically being the Republican alternative to single-payer healthcare. Republicans still blasted him, Democrats were disappointed by him, and the average American felt he was a lame do-nothing President. In 2010, both Democrats and Independents saw no reason to show up, allowing the most extreme aspects of the Republican Party to take control of Congress. Remember, the Tea Party never saw a majority outside the more extreme Fox News viewers, the reason they won was not because they were popular, but because the other side simply did not show up. If this should have taught the Republican Party one thing, it’s that the American people do not care about how “bipartisan” a legislation is, they care if makes the lives of Americans better. Considering Democrats have a massive amount of power right now, they should be focusing on that more than this false god of bipartisanship that everyone in Washington seems to worship.
Democrats need to be careful with the position they’re in. The last time they had a total majority, they blew it just one election later. If Democrats can’t effectively govern, just as they were unable to do during Obama’s first two years, then they’ve basically doomed themselves to the minority for the rest of Biden’s term. I hope that doesn’t happen, but it seems like such a thing like that’s what Democrats could easily fall into if they’re not careful.