In the nervous Washington summer of 2017, with Republicans reeling from embarrassing disclosure after embarrassing disclosure, opposition Democrats, even before President Trump recently announced in Paris: “France is America’s first and oldest ally. A lot of people don’t know that,’’ have already been following the strategy first recommended by a great Gallic leader, Napoleon Bonaparte: “Never interfere with an opponent while he’s in the process of destroying himself.’’
As the Trump administration continues to bear an increasing resemblance to former President Warren Harding’s administration — but without the integrity — and as presidential intimates continue to amend their sworn statements about foreign individuals and interests with whom they have met, it may be time to restate the Two Iron Rules of Washington Scandals.
Rule No. 1: It is not the original act itself that eventually proves politically fatal; it is almost always the cover-up of that original act. And rule No. 2: Everybody always forgets rule No. 1. The beleaguered Jared Kushner, the fading star of the current production of “The Son-in-Law Also Rises,’’ appears to have a previously undiagnosed but serious case of chronic forgetfulness. If Kushner does not remember, as Mrs. Trump-Kushner requested, to pick up a loaf of bread on the way home, please go easy on him.
But this does not mean that the minority Democrats (who currently enjoy a comfortable lead over the GOP in polls asking which party voters want to win control of Congress in 2018) do not have some questions to answer. The Democrats’ campaign strategy is quite different. They want the next congressional election to be only about one thing: a referendum on the presidency of Donald Trump. If you like all that Trump is doing and how he is doing it, then, the Democrats argue, you should vote Republican. But if voters are disappointed, displeased or, heaven forfend, even disgusted with the Trump-GOP control, then such voters should make a midterm correction by voting Democrat.
The questions the Democrats must answer long before Election Day 2018 are not about the reform of health care, taxes, immigration, mass transit or highways. In fielding such questions, experienced candidates can be both plausible and, often, persuasive with their answers. In order to deserve to serve and lead the nation, the Democratic Party must first understand the basic difference between (please excuse the gender insensitivity) the boys and the men in American politics: The boys run for office in order to be something; the men run for office in order to do something.
We know from their 2016 campaigns that Democrats have a policy or platform plank for nearly every imaginable demographic subgroup — “Oh, you’re a cross-dressing agnostic linebacker who’s both lactose intolerant and gluten-free? Here’s the Democrats’ six-point position paper.’’
Voters remain unsure what Democrats are willing to stand for beyond “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’ Trump makes it easy to define yourself by what you’re against. But that alone is not acceptable. What three things — only three things — will Democrats with power after 2018 want to do? What laws — remember, just three — do they want to put on the books or take off the books? How will Democrats not coddle us, the voters, but challenge us so that we can begin to do for the next generation and our country what the first generations did for us? Simply being “the other guy’’ politically may permit you to win an election, but it does not qualify you to lead the nation.
— Mark Shields is a columnist with Creators Syndicate.