Both Parties Have Failed to Learn the Lessons of 2016

Capitol Hill lightning strike (Senate Sergeant-at-Arms via Associated Press)
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms via Associated Press

Democrats are still in denial about what happened last November. They cannot accept that they lost, and they are trying to undo the result by impeaching President Donald Trump.

That is why they continue to take the Russia conspiracy theory so seriously: it offers both a convenient excuse for their 2016 defeat, and a way to reverse it. In the process, though, they are losing an opportunity to reach out to voters — and they are also losing elections.

Democrats have lost all four special elections this year, most notably the race for Georgia’s 6th congressional district. After that defeat, some Democrats began to criticize House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and to challenge the party’s strategy. “It’s not going to work for us just to have an anti-Trump message,” Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) said. But the mainstream media kept pushing the Russia story, and the internal reckoning was postponed.

Now, a new ABC News / Washington Post poll shows that 52% of American adults think that the Democratic Party “just stands against Trump,” versus 37% who think it “stands for something.” And Democratic leaders have no way of solving that problem.

One reason the Russia message persists is that the Bernie Sanders wing of the party wants a debate about issues, but the party establishment does not. The anti-Trump message is the only unifying theme.

And yet the GOP is faring little better. Republicans on Capitol Hill have encouraged various investigations of the president, rather than protecting him. Their enthusiasm goes beyond a sense of fairness, or civic duty (which is not reciprocated by Democrats, as shown by the way they covered up the IRS scandal and others). They want to reverse Trump’s hostile takeover of the party and to prevent him from implementing an agenda with which they disagree.

After promising voters for seven years that they would repeal and replace Obamacare, Republicans on Capitol Hill were caught woefully unprepared to do so, lacking consensus and courage. They are hoping to stay behind in D.C. in the August heat so that they will not have to face the heat from their constituents at home. Yet they are generally eager to speak to the cameras about the latest Trump tweet, and to offer their speculations about the Russia probe.

Though last year’s polls were often inaccurate, one of the most striking polls was a Rand Corporation survey that showed that the one attitude that best defined a Trump voter was agreement with the statement that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does.”

Right now, the only person in Washington speaking for those people is Trump himself. Both parties have failed to learn the lessons of 2016, and face an angry electorate in 2018.