Just a couple of weeks ago the Chimps were lamenting the re-election of Nancy Pelosi as leader of the House Democratic caucus. In our view, it sent exactly the wrong message to an already distraught and demoralized Democratic base, sort of the political equivalent of a “What, me worry?” shrug. Now comes even more bad news for those hoping to see a meaningful change of direction from the Democratic party.
Jonathan Chait, writing in the New Yorker, reports that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democratic leaders seem to be sold on a strategy of cooperation and appeasement as the best way to protect the party’s Senate seats most at risk in the 2018 midterm elections.
[A] series of reports from Democrats who have spoken with him paints a consistent account of a leader who thinks his party’s best chance of survival lies in working with Trump.
“[I]nsiders said he’s more interested in keeping open a line of conversation with Trump Tower in the hopes of holding the seats of the 10 Democratic Senators up for reelection in 2018 in states where Trump won, a move designed to protect his caucus.”
This strategy has disaster written all over it, for at least two reasons. First, as Chait points out, it runs counter to the available evidence. Specifically, cooperating with the President doesn’t secure the opposing party’s legislative seats, it endangers them.
This would be a sensible way to conceive of the choice if voters judged the congressional party independently of how it judged the president. But a vast array of political-science research finds just the opposite. The single accountability mechanism through which the public makes its political choices is the president. If the president is seen as succeeding, voters will reward his party. If he is seen as failing, they will punish it. Presidential approval is so dominant it even drives voting in state legislative races. What’s more, scholars have found, cooperation from Congress sends a signal that the president is succeeding, and conflict sends a signal of failure.
These findings are consistent with everything we’ve seen for the past eight years. Mitch McConnell made no secret of the fact that his principal strategy would be to oppose President Obama at every turn. The GOP, behaving in far more disciplined fashion than Democrats could ever hope to, moved in virtual lockstep throughout both of Obama’s terms in office. Like many others, the Chimps found this perplexing, to say the least. How could Republicans get away with this – adopt a policy of complete and utter obstruction, and not pay any political price for it?
The evidence from political scientists answers that question, and the 2016 election cycle confirms it. Not only did the GOP not pay any political price for its intransigence; voters actually rewarded Republicans for their unprecedented obstructionism. The message should be clear to Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats: cooperation is for suckers. The likely outcome will be a loss of Democratic Senate (and House) seats in 2018.
The second reason why Schumer’s plan will fail should be even more obvious: you can’t make deals with a malignantly narcissistic sociopath like Melonhead. The same, by the way, goes for the GOP, which, as the Chimps recently pointed out, collectively bears the same hallmarks of those pathologies as does its leader.
We must learn from the key themes that have marked Donald Trump’s life and career. One of those themes is that Donald Trump believes he is not, and should not be, constrained by any of the forces that bind most of us: his word, social and political norms, or even the law. Trump’s wake is littered with the dreams, the careers, and the businesses of those who mistakenly believed that he would or could deal with them in good faith. The country – along with the rest of the world – is about to learn that same lesson. Chuck Schumer and his colleagues should know better than to give Melonhead the benefit of even a single doubt.
All of this serves to reaffirm a point the Chimps made in our post about Nancy Pelosi: it’s time – well past time, actually – for genuine leadership change within the Democratic Party. Chuck Schumer made his political bones in a different age, when bipartisanship and cooperation were important to voters and were rewarded at the voting booth. Those days, sadly, are gone, at least for now. That it’s a strategy destined to fail seems lost on today’s Senate Democratic leadership, a fact that will put the Party at risk in elections to come.
Not lost on the Chimps is the irony here, or the hypocrisy of the GOP in regard to its own conservative ideals. Republican policy will, in so many ways, turn the clock back by years, or even decades. But in order to accomplish that, Republicans have had to destroy decades-old political agreements and understandings, things that formed the basis for our trust of, and confidence in, our political system and its institutions. More proof, as if it was needed, that the GOP will go to any lengths to hold on to the power to which it feels entitled.