For the last three years, the volume has been at full blast. It’s been a nonstop barrage of worst-case doom-and-gloom scenarios.
“If Donald Trump is elected, x will happen!”
In the mind of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, x equals global recession.
“So we are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight,” Krugman wrote immediately after the 2016 presidential election for the Times. “I suppose we could get lucky somehow. But on economics, as on everything else, a terrible thing has just happened.”
That hasn’t happened, at least not yet. However, this was typical of the reaction from media elites like Krugman and many in the Democratic Party.
For a hot second, those hyped reactions worked on a lot of people.
On Inauguration Day, there was rioting in the streets of Washington, D.C., away from the swearing-in ceremony. The day after, left-of-center women disappointed in the election results took to the streets.
Other shows of anti-Trump sentiment were publicly displayed. Activists stormed congressional town halls, including Planned Parenthood activists at one of Rep. Bradley Byrne’s (R-Fairhope) first post-inauguration town hall meetings in Mobile, and Greenpeace activists did the same at nearby Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-Florida) congressional district events.
It was clear the activist wing of the Democratic Party was immediately activated to try to keep the Trump White House and the GOP-led Congress from rolling back decades of gains made by progressives.
Was this sustainable? That was the question at the start of the Trump presidency. Could the activist base stay motivated for the next year and a half and turn it up in October 2018 for a midterm election?
Early on, it seemed like a no-brainer. Historically, the party in power has an abysmal midterm election after winning the White House. Add to that a president with mediocre-at-best approval numbers, and it appeared to be a recipe for the post-Obama Democratic Party to notch its first significant victory.
Throw in a Russia conspiracy and a Mueller probe on which allies in the media could fall back when things go well for Trump, and it should be a wipeout for the GOP in November 2018.
Then Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy retired, and Trump had his second high court vacancy to fill.
The Democrats found themselves at a crossroads. If they didn’t throw everything at trying to stop Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, they would not just lose the court, they might lose the anti-Trump enthusiasm that has been going since November 2016.
From a strategic standpoint, they could have looked at it like, “This appointment is probably going to be confirmed given the rules of the Senate and the GOP majority. Let’s pick another hill on which to die, like the 2018 midterm election.”
It was an all-out assault on Kavanaugh. After the Kabuki theater of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings ended, the American public was subjected to this tireless and shameless onslaught of Kavanaugh.
At certain times, it looked as if Democrats had an advantage. They kept getting delays and successfully put a few reliable Republican U.S. Senate votes in the undecided column.
They won a few battles but inevitably lost the war. Kavanaugh was confirmed, and it wasn’t without collateral damage.
Democrats may have gained a modicum of enthusiasm, but whatever that was, if anything, pales in comparison to the fire lit under Republican voters headed into the midterms.
After seeing what they perceived to be a good man unfairly maligned by a politically opportunistic media and Democratic opposition, Republicans now have a cause to rally around and motivation to vote.
“Didn’t like what happened to Brett Kavanaugh? Imagine how bad it will be if Democrats run Washington. Vote Republican on Nov. 6.” It’s a generic commercial that pretty much wrote itself.
Democrats effectively deployed an October surprise on themselves with the Kavanaugh fight and have put some once-competitive races out of reach for Democrats in the Senate and made other noncompetitive contests in the House competitive.
At home in Alabama, the proceedings likely put any statewide contests out of reach for Democrats. What might have a chance to build on last year’s win by Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) and ride the blue wave to, if anything, some symbolic victories, much of that was squandered by the Kavanaugh drama.
With Republicans being solid favorites up and down the ballot, the likelihood of a contest slipping through the cracks for Democrats just got further away given there will be some voters that show up on Election Day and vote straight-ticket Republican for the sole reason of levying a protest against national Democrats.
If the Democratic Party wants to have a successful 2020 effort, they might rethink what could have been in 2018. Democrats will still do well next month, but it won’t be what it could have been.