December 10, 2018

To Win in 2020, Democrats Must Avoid the Power Trap

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reacts to the results of the U.S. midterm elections at a Democratic election night rally and party in Washington, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

After two years in the political wilderness, enraged at a president they despise and virtually powerless to do much about it, Democrats finally see some light after regaining the House.

But as any doctor will tell you, it’s not good for the system to gorge after you’ve starved for so long.

Democrats will be tempted to use their new power in the House to take revenge on President Trump. Because they will control key committees and have the power to subpoena, it’s likely they will feel pressure from their agitated base to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, among other aggressive initiatives.

This is a trap.

For one thing, because impeachment requires the approval of two thirds of the Senate, which is staying in Republican hands, it’s highly unlikely they can get rid of Trump before the next presidential elections in 2020.

And that is precisely what Democrats must focus on—the next race for the White House.

If they squander the next two years on a bitter soap opera that will go nowhere, they will only reinforce the Republican critique that they have become a party bereft of ideas.

How can they surprise the electorate and position themselves for success in 2020? By thinking policy, by thinking about what’s good for the country.

They have little to lose by playing earnest rather than cynical. The country is expecting the two parties to continue the win-at-all-cost partisan combat so prevalent during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. It is this fanatical partisanship that has made Congress lose much of its credibility with the public.

Now that Democrats control the House, they can allow Republicans to play the bad guy if they so choose.

Believe it or not, there’s a bipartisan caucus in Congress called the “Problem Solvers Caucus” which comprises members of both parties. Yes, they’re small, but they have a big idea: Let’s focus on solutions that will help America, rather than fights that will hurt everyone.

It’s true that the parties are far apart on most of the big issues. But that’s no reason to give up. Led by the Problem Solvers Caucus, Democrats can look for small areas of agreement and build on those, and begin a process of mutual compromise. At the very least, they will look like a party of ideas and action, rather than one of destruction.

We’re all licking our wounds from the most divisive and acrimonious two years I can recall. Democratic leaders now have a chance to take the high road. They will have to contend with a progressive wing that is hardly into compromise. That will be their biggest challenge—resisting the urge to overreach.

But if they can at least look like they’re trying to bring problem solving back into politics, and attract candidates in that vein, that will increase their chances of winning the White House in 2020.