Fearful that the highly touted “blue wave” of Democratic wins in the fall midterm elections won’t be powerful enough to sink Republican control of Congress, anxious anti-Trump pundits are already looking for excuses. And, spoiler alert—it’s the Russians.
In a weekend New York Times column that is a peek into the paranoid mind of a Trump-hater (“many choose to believe he is in the White House because Vladimir Putin tricked the United States into making him its leader,”) Charles Savage agonizes over what will happen if Republicans aren’t vanquished in November. After blaming partisan gerrymandering for a congressional election map where only seven Republican districts are now in serious jeopardy of flipping to the Democrats, Savage pivots to the Russians: “But a significant Democratic wave may not materialize,” he warned. “Inevitably, many eyes would turn to Russia. It appears to still be covertly spreading disinformation and amplifying tensions on American social media. Another poll-defying election night surprise, like 2016’s, would further fuel suspicions of unseen manipulation.”
If the Russians’ crafty mind-control, social-media sorcery prevails again in 2018, Savage predicts disastrous consequences: “Disappointed Trump opponents will be primed to believe the worst: that Russia rigged two elections in a row for Republicans. And if their anticipatory catharsis and faith in the democratic process evaporates, the anger could seek a different outlet—in turn risking a backlash from Trump supporters and a downward spiral.”
Translation: If you think Democrats were mad about not getting their way in 2016, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I shudder to think what the hats will look like.
Trump is also culpable, according to Savage, for “minimizing [Russian interference] in a way that seems to preclude focusing on protecting the country from future threats.” (Never mind that the timeline of the Russian election-interference indictment announced last month by the Justice department occurred during the Obama administration.)
Savage’s premature scapegoating reflects the underlying panic among Democrats who were supremely confident that Donald Trump would be the Grim Reaper of the Republican Party. The double-digit lead the Democrats had in the generic Congressional poll at the end of 2017 was cut in half by the beginning of February. (The gap has widened slightly in favor of the Democrats since the Parkland high school shooting and the ongoing hysterics over gun control.) Democrats need to take 24 seats from Republicans to wrest control of Congress, which means they will need to win in all seven of the most vulnerable Republican districts, pick up 17 of the 20 Republican toss-up races, and hold the three Democratic toss-ups.
While Trump’s favorability rating is stuck in the low 40s, Democratic leaders don’t fare much better. The party is adrift with an aging, out-of-touch, leadership and a barren policy agenda. Trump and congressional Republicans embarrassed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer by winning the government showdown battle in January. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is rightfully being scorned for her “crumbs” comment about workers’ receiving generous bonuses thanks to the tax reform bill that wasn’t supported by a single Democratic lawmaker; a few candidates in Pelosi’s party are distancing themselves from her. Democrats are obsessed with identity politics and forcing out conservative Democrats over their pro-life views, a move that could further attract Trump-supporting, ethnic, working-class whites to the Republican Party.
A memo issued by Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC, warned that the party could squander its chances this fall: “While still on track for a successful November, the extent of Democratic gains will be blunted if Democrats do not re-engage more aggressively in speaking to the economic and health care priorities of voters.” And while Democrats have flipped 39 state legislative seats (16 in Virginia alone) in regular elections in special elections, only 20 percent changed from Republican to Democrat, and four went the other way. The political climate and electoral history are both favorable for Democrats, however, a massive victory in November is far from a slam-dunk.
NeverTrump . . . Of Course
It’s not just Democrats who are worried and looking for Rooskie fall guys: NeverTrumpers on the Right who insisted Trump would destroy the Republican Party are now hedging their bets. In The Atlantic, David Frum makes the case for how a bit of Soviet-style election shenanigans could spare a Republican meltdown: “Most observers predict a grim year for the GOP in 2018. But the economy is strong, and selective tax cuts are strategically redistributing money from blue-state professionals to red-state parents. The Republican National Committee commands a huge financial advantage over its Democratic counterpart. A little extra help could make a big difference to Republican hopes—and to Trump’s political survival.” (One can almost hear Frum weeping.)
Jennifer Rubin, the allegedly “conservative” blogger for the Washington Post who is rooting for a Democratic takeover of Congress, is already helping build the Russians-stole-the-2018-election narrative. In her typical hysterical and unhinged fashion, Rubin claims that Mueller’s indictments against 13 Russians have “tainted” Trump’s “victory” (her sneer quotes) and that his “refusal to defend our elections [is] a blatant instance of disregarding his oath of office.”
And of course, no underhanded scheme on the Right to undermine Trump’s presidency is untouched by the fingerprints of Bill Kristol, the de facto leader of the NeverTrump tribe. Kristol is on the advisory council of the newly-formed Alliance for Securing Democracy. The group’s mission statement sounds lifted from a fictional spy novel, with sinister lines of doom:
In 2016, American democracy came under unprecedented attack. The government of the Russian Federation attempted to weaken the pillars of our democracy and undermine faith and confidence in our society’s most fundamental right—the ability to choose our own leaders.
It’s tracking the activity of 600 Twitter accounts allegedly linked to the Russians under a project called Hamilton 68, and successfully planting stories in the media foreshadowing Russian interference in the 2018 elections. (Journalists Glenn Greenwald and Mollie Hemingway have questioned the legitimacy of the group’s work. Greenwald calls Hamilton 68’s leaders “the least credible, most war-mongering people in Washington.”) Kristol has repeatedly predicted that Trump would ruin the Republican Party and, should yet another of his political prognostications not come true, he will need someone to blame.
Despite all this pre-election bluster about the Russians, the truth is that only one person will be held responsible for the fate of Republicans in November and his name isn’t named Putin: It’s Trump. After a particularly wretched presidential performance on every score last week, Trump needs to get his act back together. He derailed a positive trajectory of good economic news and improving political vibes with petulant Twitter outbursts, uninformed and impulsive comments about gun control, and an ill-conceived plan on steel tariffs that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) now opposes.
An effective, composed Trump and a successful Republican Congress—not Russian bots—are what the president’s political foes are most worried about heading into election season. Let’s hope the anti-Trump mob has to again fault Russian Facebook imposters for another Democratic Party failure at the polls this November.
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