On Wednesday night, President Trump bamboozled and frustrated Democrats once again with a barnstorming campaign speech in Iowa. There, he trotted out his litany of complaints about the media, rightly ripping them for their ridiculously over-the-top coverage, and tossed off one-liners about a solar panel border wall and cutting off welfare for immigrants (already federal policy).
But here’s the bottom line: Trump is best on the trail. It drives his political opponents up a wall, forces the media into fact-checking extremis, and makes him feel good about himself – which is important, since when he feels down and blue, he takes to Twitter to fire off foolishly counterproductive tweets.
There are those of us who would like to see Trump out on the campaign trail continuously, all the while delegating the technical parts of his job to Vice President Mike Pence and his cabinet. We’d like to see Trump run the White House the way he ran his business: as a branding enterprise for Trump, while someone else does the heavy lifting.
But that may not be the best political outcome for Trump. The political outcome for Trump might lie in getting nothing done.
That’s not a rip on Trump. That’s a rip on our politically polarized country.
The entire Democratic narrative now rests on the evils of President Trump. With their Trump-Russia collusion story falling apart from every angle, Democrats will have to turn to portraying Trump as a cruel threat to liberty, a dastard intent on doing ill to Americans across the country. But it’s difficult to make that case when nothing is getting done.
And right now, nothing is getting done. Even the much-vaunted Obamacare “repeal” doesn’t repeal Obamacare. Tax reform isn’t going to be a winning issue for Democrats, since raising taxes never is. Trump’s border wall has been stalled since Day 1, and he just re-enshrined Obama’s executive amnesty. On foreign policy, Trump has avoided major disaster thus far, muddling through with an ad hoc strategy.
All of which deprives Democrats of a rallying point.
In order to make major gains in an off-year election, typically the party out of power needs two things: an unpopular president, and a galvanizing piece of legislation. President Obama provided both – his Obamacare proposals, his auto takeover, his massive stimulus boondoggle – all of it combined to catalyze the Tea Party into existence. In 1994, Bill Clinton’s scandals, combined with his push for nationalized health care, did the same for Republicans.
But what if Trump doesn’t actually pass any major legislation? What if nothing gets done? Democrats will be hard-pressed to say they require the House to impeach Trump if Trump is no threat – and meanwhile, Trump goes around the country preaching to the converted, getting them out to the polls in order to protect the precious. Inaction from the Trump administration could actually fulfill one of the first rules of political war: never interrupt your opponent when they are making a mistake. And Democrats can’t stop making mistakes.
This creates a perverse set of incentives for the Trump administration: if they get nothing done, they can blame Democrats and also avoid portrayal as a supreme threat to the Democratic way of life; they can even point to their few victories as massive roadblocks to the leftist agenda (see Gorsuch, Neil). If they get something major done, they’ll likely tick off half of Republicans and could actually create a rallying point for the left.
So inaction may be the order of the day. And that could actually prevent Democrats from using Trump to unite the #Resistance.