Democrats in denial
"The whole Democratic Party is now a smoking pile of rubble."
Matthew Yglesias wrote a column for Vox with that memorable headline last November, two days after the general election. Was it overstated? Sure. But the exaggeration was salutary. Democrats needed to wake up to the fact that the party got (as Yglesias put it) "annihilated" from top to bottom on Election Day. Donald Trump didn't just manage to (barely) win the presidency. The GOP ran the table, holding onto both houses of Congress, ensuring the Supreme Court would continue to lean right for years to come, and taking control of two-thirds of state legislatures, two-thirds of governorships, and 24 states outright. Democrats lost in nearly every way imaginable.
If that's not quite a smoking pile of rubble, it's pretty damn close.
Given that painful reality, it made sense to assume that Democrats would spend the following year focused on the one and only thing that matters: gaining a greater share of political power by winning future elections at every level, from local to national.
Unfortunately, they did no such thing.
For the first few weeks of the Trump presidency, legions of Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton and hated her opponent attended protests at which they got to demonstrate publicly that they now hated Trump even more. That worked well as therapy and catharsis, but it did nothing to advance the Democrat Party's electoral prospects.
Then Democrats spent much of the spring and summer fixated on Russian interference in the election, which conveniently allowed them to defer an honest reckoning with the misjudgments that had left Trump and Clinton close enough in the final weeks of the campaign that outside interference was able to make a meaningful difference to the outcome on Nov. 8.
Since then, efforts at a broader analysis have tended to emphasize racism as by far the most important factor in Republican victories — which ensures that Democrats won't even try to win over voters from the other party, who are presumed to reside on the other side of a moral chasm that is both impossible and undesirable to bridge. It also ensures that this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, since people usually avoid voting for a party when its members regularly hurl insults at them.
And that brings us to where we are today, with large numbers of elite Democrats preferring to rant impotently on Twitter about the president and the GOP agenda instead of doing the hard and at times painful work of overcoming that impotence at the ballot box.
We know that this is what they'd prefer because, as Ross Douthat recently pointed out, the party has shown no willingness at all to adjust its message to appeal to conservatives in the South who would like to see Democrats stake out a more moderate position on abortion, or to Trump voters in the Midwest who are anxious about immigration, or to centrists who are skittish about promises to impose a single-payer health-care system. Instead, the party has doubled down on its long-term pro-choice absolutism, its more recent drift toward rejecting any and all immigration restrictions, and its post-2016 conviction that advocating some form of socialized medicine is a winning idea.
Then there are the Democratic donors and activists who would rather spend their money and their time chasing the pipe dream of removing Trump from office through impeachment. As Michelle Goldberg highlighted in Tuesday's New York Times, progressive billionaire Tom Steyer believes the likelihood of impeachment can be increased by using his fortune to jumpstart a national movement in its favor.
Never mind that there is next to no chance that a Republican-controlled House and Senate will vote to impeach and remove a Republican president. Those chances will increase significantly only if Robert Mueller's investigation turns up indisputable evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the president himself during the 2016 campaign — and even then it will be partially contingent on whether Republican voters finally turn on Trump en masse. (Let's just say the likelihood of that happening remains uncertain.)
Short of that, impeachment requires a landslide in the 2018 midterm elections that gives the Democrats a solid majority in both houses of Congress — which means that Steyer should be spending his money on trying to ensure that that happens, instead of pursuing a fanciful shortcut to making the president disappear.
Democrats need political power, and they can only get it if they win more votes. That needs to be the goal relentlessly, ruthlessly, and fearlessly pursued by every Democrat in every district of every state from now until it becomes a reality. All the rest is fantasy.