Democrats are convinced that the “blue wave” they’ve been counting on to set the stage for President Donald Trump’s impeachment in a House of Representatives they control is out there and building. They continue to enjoy a four to six point “generic” advantage in the polls, and there is evidence that their voters are more anxious to turn out and vote than their Republican counterparts — two indicators that combine with the media’s continuing effort to demonize Mr. Trump to give them more than a fighting chance to take the House.
Midterm elections are decided not by independents and casual voters, but by more committed partisans and don’t tell us much about how the next presidential contest will go. Congressional Democrats suffered incredible losses in 1994 and 2014, but Presidents Clinton and Obama were both handily re-elected two years later. Their party’s midterm defeats didn’t keep them from a second term, but doomed much of what they had hoped to get through Congress from the day their opponents were sworn in.
In 2014, the Republican base was so opposed to Mr. Obama that the mere mention of his name was enough to get them to drag themselves to the polls. They didn’t like him and detested his agenda. He was their “get out the vote” program and it worked, giving Republicans victories at all levels. This year the shoe is, as they say, on he other foot. Donald Trump is the Democrat’s Barack Obama; they can’t wait to get to vent their anger at Mr. Trump by voting against his Republican allies.
Victory is far from guaranteed, however, because many of today’s Democratic leaders are staking out positions so extreme that they are risking driving away some of the voters they can usually count on. Republicans faced a similar problem when purely ideological candidates who split rather than united Republican voters allowed Democrats to hold onto seats they might otherwise have lost in 2014.
Rhetorical over-reach can be a real problem in a campaign and that is exactly what we’re witnessing today as Democratic candidates and their fellow-travelling pundits tout “socialism,” declare their desire to impeach a president, raise taxes and continue to attack not the candidates with whom they disagree, but the voters who support them.
In focusing on Mr. Trump’s personality and tweets rather than his policies, Democrats are asking voters to ignore the economy and any other successes for which he tries to take credit because he’s a bad guy who shouldn’t be president. By focusing almost exclusively on his real and imagined foibles, they are forced to argue not for a different agenda, but for support in their effort to drive the man from office. That may prove to be a step too far even for many voters who share their distaste for Mr. Trump.
Democratic leaders recognize the dangers they face in playing to an ideological base without turning off voters who haven’t bought into the aggressive “progressive” agenda their activist fringe holds so dear, but haven’t quite figured out how to do it. They warn of the potential backlash of making the midterms a referendum not on Mr. Trump’s policies and personality, but on whether they should be empowered to impeach him. But those warnings are being ignored by the fire-breathers among them.
Even one as out of touch with reality as Nancy Pelosi realizes that while calls for impeachment feel good to Democrats who would like to force Mr. Trump out of office, it’s bad politics and could strengthen rather than weaken the Republican effort to hold the House. She knows, too, that when Republicans in the 1990s decided to impeach Bill Clinton, it backfired.
The parallels are interesting. Both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Trump are under attack from their opponents because of business dealings that took place before they entered the White House and lying about and covering up sexual misconduct that would have proved embarrassing to them during their respective campaigns. Both men arranged to pay “hush” money to women with whom they’d had affairs. The only real difference is that Mr. Clinton continued his affairs while he was president and the defenders of both claim that whatever personal mistakes they made shouldn’t detract from their performance as president.
As the attempt to drive Mr. Clinton from office took center stage back then, the public realized that his opponents wanted to drive the president from office not out of moral outrage at his business dealings and affairs, but because they thought they could exploit both to gain a political upper hand. It didn’t work then, and Democrats and Republicans who lived through it then cannot really believe that it’ll work now.
What was it that they say about those who fail to learn from history?
• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.
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