Democrats’ Scorched Earth Strategy is Bound to Backfire

Donald Trump never received the benefit of the honeymoon that new presidents typically enjoy. There was no wave of bipartisan goodwill that swept across the nation, no recognition that he is everyone’s president, no deferential posture by the opposition party to his 100-day agenda. Instead, from jump street, he was treated to calls of “not my president,” editorials demanded not just resistance, but defiance, and dozens of House Democrats normalized these responses by boycotting Trump’s inauguration.

Now, Politico reports, the delegitimization efforts are becoming more formalized by Democrat Party leaders looking for a path back to relevancy. Gabriel Debenedetti writes:

What began as a high-minded discussion about how to position the Democratic Party against President Donald Trump appears to be nearing its conclusion. The bulk of the party has settled on a scorched-earth, not-now-not-ever model of opposition.

In legislative proposals, campaign promises, donor pitches and even in some Senate hearings, Democrats have opted for a hard-line, give-no-quarter posture, a reflection of a seething party base that will have it no other way.

According to interviews with roughly two dozen party leaders and elected officeholders, the internal debate over whether to take the conciliatory path — to pursue a high-road approach as a contrast to Trump’s deeply polarizing and norm-violating style — is largely settled, cemented in place by a transition and first week in office that has confirmed the left’s worst fears about Trump’s temperament.

Democrats know the risks of a strategy based on obstruction and nothing else.

“We need to remember that one of the reasons young voters, especially, were uninspired is you can’t have a message of, “I’m not him,” DNC vice chairman R.T. Ryback cautioned.

“I don’t think it makes sense to spend all of our time responding to every tweet, I think that will just reinforce a notion that many people have in our country that we put party before country,” added former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Democrats have largely ignored these concerns, some going so far as to label the idea of working with Trump “absolutely ridiculous.”

Moreover, Democrats justification for the hard-line behavior seems to come from an odd place – Sen. Mitch McConnell. There is a pervasive myth that McConnell, who was then Senate Minority Leader, kicked off Obama’s presidency by vowing to make him “a one term president.” New York Magazine’s Ed Kilgore offers a perfect example:

There is not much question that most congressional Democrats will be taking as a template Mitch McConnell’s declaration of scorched-earth opposition to all Barack Obama’s policies and initiatives in early 2009. Partly it’s a matter of payback, but the more important motive is that it worked: Democrats lost their control over Congress at the very first opportunity, in the 2010 midterms; even before that, major elements of Obama’s agenda — including climate-change legislation — were derailed.

That narrative is flawed in two respects.

First, McConnell’s remarks didn’t come in 2009, at the start of Obama’s presidency. They were made on Oct. 23, 2010 – nearly two years after Obama was elected president, and just days before the midterm elections. In other words, President Obama had two years to look for common ground with Republicans, but instead opted to set the tone by doing something unprecedented – passing an enormous reform bill with generational impacts without bipartisan support.

Second, Democrats are ignoring the context of McConnell’s statement. He absolutely said “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” But when asked if that meant frequent confrontation, McConnell took a principled stance.

“If President Obama does a Clintonian backflip, if he’s willing to meet us halfway on some of the biggest issues, it’s not inappropriate for us to do business with him.”

There is no similar grace period being offered to Trump, nor is there any indication that Democrats are willing to work with him where they find opportunities. Instead, they’ll continue their stance of obstructionism. And as a result, they’ll continue their place in the minority.