'Midwestern Nice' And Local Won For Democrats In 2018
Midwestern Nice, and a focus on the Congress that voted against healthcare, won in 2018. What about when we have to beat Trump in 2020?Credit: Andrew Seaman - Unsplash
November 8, 2018

What Trump did Wednesday, firing Sessions and hosting a madhouse presser, was 100% predictable, but Democrats weren't supposed to talk about it.

The midterms are over, so the first shoe we knew would drop after the election has dropped.

President Trump forced out Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday and replaced him with a loyalist who will now take charge of the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference, a defiant move just a day after a midterm election loss.

... Mr. Trump tapped Matthew Whitaker, Mr. Sessions’s chief of staff, as acting attorney general. In that capacity, Mr. Whitaker assumes control of the Russia investigation....

Whitaker, as you may know, is a tad biased:

In a tweet, Whitaker said an article that characterized Mueller’s investigators as a “lynch mob” was a “must read,” and he told CNN that if Sessions were fired, his replacement could “reduce” Mueller’s budget in such a way that it would grind his investigation almost to a halt. He also shared an article on Twitter that explored the process by which Trump could fire Mueller, said in a radio interview that “there is no criminal obstruction-of-justice charge to be had” against Trump, and defended the Trump campaign’s decision to meet with Russian nationals to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton—a meeting Mueller has been closely examining.“You would always take the meeting,” Whitaker told CNN last year. “You certainly want to have any advantage, any legal advantage you can.”

... Whitaker most clearly expressed his view of the Mueller probe in an op-ed last year, writing that the inquiry had gone “too far,” and arguing that the president’s personal finances were a “red line” that the special counsel had come “dangerously close to crossing.”

Trump couldn't have been clearer about his intent to do this as soon as the midterms ended if he'd announced the plan in one of his campaign rallies. And yet Democratic candidates weren't talking about this on the campaign trail, as part of a deliberate strategy to limit the subjects they'd talk about:

It was a meeting of House Democrats early in 2017, during Republicans’ drive that March to strike down the Affordable Care Act. Ms. Pelosi and her political lieutenants laid out their counterattack: Democrats would talk about pre-existing conditions and millions of people losing coverage. And they would talk about an “age tax” — a provision in the Obamacare replacement passed by the House, which would have allowed health insurers to widen the premium gap between younger and older customers.

... That narrow focus on health care and a few economic issues came to define the Democrats’ midterm campaign....

Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in an interview that it had been challenging to break the habit of responding with reflexive, public outrage to Mr. Trump’s utterances....

“Every time he would say something or tweet something, it would come back: ‘We need to come right back at him! Define him!’” Mr. Luján recalled. “We would say: Look, we don’t need to talk about him, he’s going to do it himself. We need to continue to have a conversation with the American people about kitchen-table issues.”

... In a presentation compiled for the PAC in the summer of 2017 by the Democratic polling firm Normington Petts, party strategists delivered an unambiguous assessment: “The strongest policies for a Democratic candidate are almost entirely economically focused.” And it warned that Mr. Trump was not the “most important villain” — congressional Republicans were.

I'm reading this in a New York Times story, and I'm also reading commentary by Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post and Bill Scher at Politico arguing that what worked for Democrats in the midterms was being "Midwestern nice" -- not being Resistance firebrands or social justice warriors. (Both the Rubin and Scher pieces are illustrated with photos of Midwestern-nice senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.)

I'm pleased that the strategy worked, but it suggests that Democrats have to hold their tongues about many issues -- Trump's character, and by extension Trump's corruption and disdain for the rule of law -- just at a moment when we need opposition voices. The poll-tested approach reminds me of the way non-whites and women talk about the risks they face when they speak out frankly -- much better not to show anger or ruffle feathers in any way. Be the non-threatening member of a minority group, the non-threatening woman -- and, I guess, the non-threatening Democrat.

It got the job done for the election -- I'm not complaining. But if it means that America will be alienated as soon as Democrats try to get tough, then we have a problem.

crossposted from No More Mister Nice Blog

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