Dear Commons Community,
In his New York Times column today, Bret Stephens identifies six rules for beating Donald Trump.
1. Don’t argue with sunshine.
2. Stop predicting imminent disaster.
3. Stop obsessing about 2016.
4. Ignore Trump’s tweets.
5. Beware the poisoned chalice (of the midterm elections).
6. People want leaders. Not ideologues.
Stephens’ full column is below.
The Rules for Beating Donald Trump
By Bret Stephens
July 27, 2018
Remember Jack Kemp? In the fall of 1996, Bob Dole’s vice-presidential candidate complained in his debate with Al Gore that economic growth of 2.5 percent just wasn’t good enough. The American people thought better of it, and Dole-Kemp went on to lose the race by more than eight million votes.
That’s a memory Donald Trump’s critics and prospective opponents might consider on the news that the U.S. economy grew at a robust annual rate of 4.1 percent in the second quarter, the best quarter since 2014. No, the growth isn’t evenly distributed. It hasn’t shown up in wages. It shouldn’t excuse the president’s trade follies. It doesn’t mean the next quarter will be as good. And it never means that storm clouds aren’t brewing.
But if you’re serious about wanting to defeat Trump, you might want to start with Rule No. 1: Don’t argue with sunshine. Don’t acknowledge good news through gritted teeth, or chortle at the president’s boastful delivery, or content yourself with the thought that Barack Obama also had some strong quarters and deserves all the credit.
And don’t bet on bad news.
Why? Because it creates a toxic perception that Trump’s critics would rather see things go wrong, for the sake of their own vindication, than right, for the common good. That, in turn, reinforces the view that Trump’s critics are the sort of people whose jobs and bank accounts are sufficiently safe and padded that they can afford lousy economic numbers.
If working-class resentment was a factor in handing the White House to Trump, pooh-poohing of good economic news only feeds it.
While they’re at it, they might try to observe Rule No. 2: Stop predicting imminent disaster. The story of the Trump presidency so far isn’t catastrophe. It’s corrosion — of our political institutions, civic morals, global relationships and democratic values.
Democrats can make a successful run against the corrosion, just as George W. Bush did in a prosperous age with his promise to restore “honor and dignity” to the White House after the scandals of the Clinton years. But they’re not going to do it by repeatedly forecasting a stock market meltdown, worldwide depression, or global thermonuclear war — and then wondering why they aren’t believed.
Third rule: Stop obsessing about 2016.
Faulkner was wrong: The past really is past, at least when it comes to Trump. Obsessing over what was said at Trump Tower in 2016, or parsing the meaning of Trump’s tweets in 2017, will not lead to an indictment of the president, which Robert Mueller can’t bring anyway without rewriting Justice Department regulations. It will probably not lead to impeachment, unless Democrats retake the House. And it will never lead to a conviction in the Senate, barring a two-thirds Democratic majority.
The smart play is to defend the integrity of Mueller’s investigation and invest as little political capital as possible in predicting the result. If Mueller discovers a crime, that’s a gift to the president’s opponents. If he discovers nothing, it shouldn’t become a humiliating liability.
Fourth: Ignore Trump’s tweets. Yes, it’s unrealistic. But we would all be better off if the media reported them more rarely, reacted to them less strongly, and treated them with less alarm and more bemusement.
Tweets are the means by which the president wrests control of the political narrative from the news media (and even his own administration), whether by inspiring his followers, goading his opponents, changing the subject, or merely causing a ruckus. There’s no way to stop him, but there’s no reason to amplify him.
A corollary rule: Ignore the social-media screamers among the Trump haters, too. America is not Twitter. The people we need to hear from most are the ones who make themselves heard least — except, of course, on Election Day.
Fifth: Beware the poisoned chalice. We keep hearing that the 2018 midterms are the most important in all of history, or close to it. Why?
Democrats took control of the Senate in the 1986 midterms but George H.W. Bush easily defeated Mike Dukakis two years later. Republicans took Congress in 1994, only to become Bill Clinton’s ideal foil. Republicans took the House again in 2010 amid a wave of discontent with Barack Obama, and you know what happened. Get my drift?
Finally: People want leaders. Not ideologues. Not people whose life experiences have been so narrow that they’ve been able to maintain the purity of their youthful ideals. Not people whose principal contact with political life comes in the form of speeches and sound bites rather than decisions and responsibilities. Not people who think proving a point is tantamount to getting something done, or who mistake pragmatism and bipartisan compromise with selling out.
There’s a word for these sorts of people: governors. John Hickenlooper. Deval Patrick. Maggie Hassan. Andrew Cuomo. Want to defeat Trump? Look thataway.