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Democrats, focus on midterms -- not Trump impeachment talk

California Democrat Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, had stro...

Posted: May 6, 2018 3:23 PM
Updated: May 6, 2018 3:23 PM

California Democrat Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, had strong words for his own party.

On Friday, in an op-ed in The New York Times, he warned fellow Democrats against a rush to talk about impeachment before all the evidence was in front of them. "Let President Trump arouse his voters as he will," Schiff wrote, "while Democrats continue to focus on the economy, family and a return to basic decency. And in the meantime, all Americans should reserve judgment until the investigations have run their course."

These are strong words for the Democrat who has been one of the most vocal critics of Republican efforts to stifle special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. This is a message that Democrats should read carefully as they head into the midterm season.

After another week of Trump administration chaos, in which Rudy Giuliani has become the new star of Donald Trump's political reality show, Democrats have a great deal to be excited about. Though their lead in the generic ballot has declined, there are many signs that the midterms will be a good day for Democrats. The high number of retirements by Republican incumbents, the outcome of special elections where Democrats took red seats or Republicans barely held on to theirs in deeply conservative territory, and many of the polls continue to point to a possible wave election. And it is important to remember that, historically, midterms almost always go poorly for the party in power.

Yet Democrats, who certainly can't forget the dangers of believing in inevitable outcomes, need to be cautious. Nothing is a slam-dunk in American politics.

The biggest challenge for Democrats is to avoid letting anti-Trump fervor drown out their own message. To be sure, attacking the President is often an important part of wave elections. Though they already had control of the House in 1982, Democrats expanded their majority by urging voters to take a stand against the Reagan Revolution. In 1994, Newt Gingrich used President Bill Clinton -- and his failed health care plan -- as a foil to excite voters to turn out in the election. Nancy Pelosi returned the favor in 2006 as Democrats were determined to send a message to President George W. Bush, just as Tea Party Republicans did in 2010 when they took back the House.

But in each of those cases the anger toward the incumbent president was combined with a program or agenda.

In 1982, Speaker Tip O'Neill rallied Democrats around a theme of "Fairness," assuring voters the party would protect the social safety net and reverse the regressive economic policies of an administration that had left working Americans struggling in the middle of the recession. Gingrich had his 10-point Contract with America, a laundry list of promises that Republicans vowed to fulfill if they took power. They would impose term limits, reform congressional spending and boost defense spending.

Democrats in 2006 vowed to bring the war in Iraq to an end and restore the social safety net policies that the administration had stripped away. Tea Party Republicans continually blasted President Barack Obama, but they also spoke to their supporters about the urgency of cutting government spending and cleaning up the way that Washington worked.

Trump poses a particular challenge since the turmoil and scandal coming from the Oval Office often overwhelm the amount of public space available for discussion about other issues. Democrats are making a big political bet if they think that the news over Russia, payments to porn stars and ongoing lies will be enough to bring voters out to the polls. This is especially risky given that unemployment is now at historically low 3.9% and Trump might be on the cusp of helping to orchestrate a major peace deal between North and South Korea.

Democrats are also confronting some extremely bitter internecine primary competitions that could dampen voter turnout in the general elections if they are not handled with care. The national party has been coming down hard in certain primary competitions, placing immense pressure on upstart challengers to get out of the race so that the favored candidate can run a clean race. In The New York Times, Alexander Burns has recounted the forceful intervention of the Democratic National Committee in areas in California, Arkansas and New York.

The intervention has sometimes produced a backlash among voters who resent national officials making the decision for voters. The 2016 primaries revealed that there are some pretty deep and unresolved tensions within the party. As they attempt to protect "safer candidates" who stick to the economy and look like Conor Lamb -- winner of Pennsylvania's special House election -- national Democrats have the potential to try to stifle candidates who are talking about crucial issues such as gun control and sexual harassment. The Intercept recently published a recording of Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, pressuring a candidate in Colorado, Levi Tillemann, to get out of a primary and make way for the party's preferred candidate.

Given that midterm elections are primarily about turnout, primary battles that leave too many voters upset and unmotivated, rather than inspired, could have a detrimental effect when it comes time for competitive general elections.

The best news for Democrats is that at the grass-roots level, hundreds of thousands of hard-working citizens have been organizing and mobilizing since the start of this presidency to take back control of Congress. As Lara Putnam and Theda Skocpol argued in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, thousands of women in suburbs, cities and small towns in key electoral counties have been doing the grunt work that is needed to create a true political counter-mobilization for 2018 and 2020.

But taking advantage of the political window that Trump has created for Democrats won't be an easy victory. Democrats must avoid two big pitfalls -- failing to deliver a compelling agenda and dampening their own turnout though excessively hard-line tactics in the primaries. And that could leave Republicans in much better shape than they otherwise would be in the age of Trump.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 327477

Reported Deaths: 3751
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin688981130
Ramsey28948512
Anoka23196232
Dakota23102194
Washington14590120
Stearns14314121
St. Louis9280117
Scott881056
Wright827145
Olmsted702536
Sherburne608243
Clay521359
Carver501315
Kandiyohi432024
Rice427738
Blue Earth426617
Crow Wing376237
Otter Tail332725
Chisago326914
Benton317253
Nobles313731
Winona292031
Douglas278439
Mower270623
Polk266226
Morrison241730
Lyon228712
Beltrami227518
McLeod226517
Becker217619
Goodhue216930
Steele20568
Itasca202223
Isanti199517
Carlton198417
Todd187414
Nicollet169426
Mille Lacs161231
Freeborn15966
Le Sueur153511
Brown151015
Cass149910
Pine14298
Waseca141811
Meeker139011
Roseau12475
Martin121221
Hubbard117728
Wabasha11041
Redwood101720
Chippewa9508
Cottonwood9284
Renville92729
Dodge9110
Watonwan8824
Wadena8537
Sibley8194
Rock8019
Aitkin79530
Houston7694
Fillmore7480
Pipestone74718
Kanabec67714
Yellow Medicine67612
Pennington6758
Swift6149
Murray6064
Faribault5902
Pope5641
Clearwater5389
Stevens5333
Marshall5289
Jackson5181
Lake4437
Wilkin4115
Koochiching4106
Lac qui Parle3984
Unassigned38259
Lincoln3721
Norman3638
Big Stone3332
Mahnomen3164
Grant2956
Kittson2408
Red Lake2283
Traverse1521
Lake of the Woods1021
Cook790

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 234817

Reported Deaths: 2486
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk34631341
Linn14655168
Scott1166189
Black Hawk11194139
Woodbury10622133
Johnson979337
Dubuque941594
Story698323
Pottawattamie664871
Dallas657159
Sioux380529
Webster371639
Cerro Gordo367649
Marshall357647
Clinton341444
Buena Vista313114
Des Moines298621
Muscatine298271
Warren291714
Plymouth284444
Wapello263772
Jones235917
Jasper229746
Lee225617
Marion210222
Carroll203624
Bremer200212
Henry19137
Crawford181016
Benton174023
Tama156641
Washington149715
Jackson148814
Delaware147021
Dickinson143811
Boone142412
Mahaska133328
Wright13007
Clay12254
Buchanan122010
Hardin121011
Hamilton117713
Page11664
Kossuth11608
Clayton11399
Cedar112513
Harrison110832
Floyd110219
Calhoun10907
Fayette108712
Mills10858
Lyon10619
Butler10576
Winneshiek102713
Poweshiek102013
Iowa100213
Winnebago94825
Cherokee9474
Chickasaw9084
Hancock9008
Sac8978
Louisa89321
Grundy88911
Allamakee87013
Mitchell8369
Cass83524
Union8166
Appanoose80713
Humboldt8015
Shelby79511
Emmet78626
Guthrie77115
Franklin76021
Jefferson7512
Madison7174
Unassigned7050
Palo Alto6734
Keokuk6477
Pocahontas5984
Howard5809
Osceola5411
Greene5401
Ida53013
Clarke5004
Montgomery49311
Davis4819
Taylor4773
Monona4516
Monroe45113
Adair4489
Worth3820
Van Buren3755
Fremont3743
Lucas3376
Decatur3290
Wayne3077
Audubon3052
Ringgold2382
Adams1792
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