President Donald Trump at the White House, January 7, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
The last seven days in world events have created a new political paradigm.
Call it “Trump Unleashed.”
That’s because the attempts by President Donald Trump’s opponents to rein him in after his decision to take down Iranian general Qasem Soleimani are likely to have the opposite effect.
This came to a head Thursday night. Six days after a successful U.S. strike to take out a major terrorist army leader, and one day after Trump announced his intention to pursue economic sanctions over further military action, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opted to hold a vote on a War Powers Act resolution to restrict Trump’s military options going forward against Iran.
But just as that vote was in the works, we may have reached peak “bash Trump” levels when some of the president’s opponents decided to publicly blame him for Iran’s apparent shooting down of the Ukrainian passenger jet over Tehran Thursday morning. That included California Democrat Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who said as much during a live interview on CNN, and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg who at least suggested as much in a tweet last night:
Yet in the midst of these attacks, Trump’s polls still aren’t going down across the board. This brings to mind the moment when Hillary Clinton released a campaign video to her supporters in 2016 she where she asked, “why aren’t I 50 points ahead?” in the polls over Trump. But her question should have spurred Trump’s opponents to look closer at how the strategy of throwing the kitchen sink at him doesn’t really work. Instead, it appears they’ve spent the last few years doubling and tripling down on that strategy while at the same time doing whatever they can not to look inward.
It’s not that Trump’s poll numbers are historically good for an incumbent president. They’re not. But it’s extremely telling for a president to suffer no consistent drop in the polls even after being impeached, pilloried in the news media on an hourly basis, and reflexively blamed for just about everything.
How Democrats can win in 2020
But what can the Democrats do? Won’t they suffer a loss of support from their own base if they don’t keep up that constant attack mode against the president?
To win in 2020 and to make enduring gains in the polls, the Democrats must give the voters a vision of something more than just a blank space to replace Trump’s image. Whether his actions are popular or not, the best response to a person of action is to promote actions of your own.
Every time Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, or any Democrat in Congress criticizes one of Trump’s policies, they should be starting their sentences with phrases like, “While we’re looking to reduce health costs or promote policy X, President Trump is pursuing, etc.”
Right now, the Democratic Congressional leaders never seem to get past focusing only on what President Trump is doing or what they accuse him of doing.
The Democrats running for president are doing a bit of a better job on that score. At least a few of them are trying to make policies like Medicare for All or student loan forgiveness a feature of their campaigns. But the fact is, most of the candidates’ messages are focused on bashing Trump as opposed to offering a very clear alternative on a policy level as well as a personal one.
All of this is counterintuitively providing President Trump a tremendous amount of political freedom. In a world where his domestic opponents are actually blaming him for a rogue regime’s shooting down of a civilian aircraft, why should he bother with the impossible task of trying to win them over? The short answer is he won’t.
Without the votes in Congress to pass any new bills, this new level of political freedom will not result in any sweeping new legislation. But expect President Trump to pursue more foreign policy initiatives as he takes a cue from President Obama’s famous “I have a pen and a phone” pronouncement in 2014. Remember that Thursday’s War Powers vote by the House is just symbolic without Senate support. Plus, the War Powers Act as a whole has never been fully backed by the courts, giving any president ample room to evade its checks on U.S. military activities.
In the end that means unless the polls really start to turn downward for the president, his hands now seem freer than ever to pursue old and new agendas. By making it all about opposing him, Democrats have only made President Trump stronger.
Jake Novak is a political and economic analyst at Jake Novak News and former CNBC TV producer. You can follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.