Democrats play for power. Republicans play for survival. And conservatives have been complaining about the imbalance for decades.
When Democrats are playing from behind, be it lacking the control of Congress or control of the White House, they throw out the rulebook. From hyped-up claims of Russians hacking an election or a man who looks like Paul Ryan pushing grandma off a cliff, nothing is out of bounds when the left is in attack mode.
Sure, the right had some Tea Party protests with a few clever signs. But the difference between liberal and conservative movements is liberals seem to have the unanimous support of the Democratic Party.
It has been a long time since Republicans have used dirty tricks against Democrats. Not since the height of political strategist Lee Atwater’s time have Republicans played a game of no-holds-barred politics.
Atwater was credited with making Willie Horton an issue during the 1988 presidential election between Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and Vice President George H.W. Bush.
Horton, a convicted killer and rapist, was released as part of a weekend furlough program Dukakis supported. Horton never returned from that furlough. Instead, he left Massachusetts and raped a woman in Maryland after attacking and tying up her fiancé. Horton later stole the man’s car.
Horton was eventually captured, but many blamed Dukakis for vetoing legislation that would have prevented Horton’s release.
Atwater reportedly said on many occasions during the 1988 campaign, “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.”
Bush would go on to defeat Dukakis handily. Some dispute whether the Horton episode had much to do with the outcome. However, it did show a willingness by the GOP to take the gloves off to secure an electoral victory.
Now the Republicans find themselves in a place they have not been since 2006 — in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. A year ago, few thought this was a possibility as it appeared Donald Trump was going to win the GOP nomination and, it was thought, the apparent Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton would trounce him.
Many Republican elected officials, especially those in Congress, gave Trump lukewarm endorsements, fearing his presence on the ticket would impact their re-election chances. The name of the game was survival. Try to maintain control of Congress and do your best to hold onto your seat.
Sure, Clinton had her vulnerabilities. But there did not seem to be a magic bullet to end her candidacy. And even if there had been, it might have been viewed as uncouth to use. Besides, the GOP had already thrown a lot at her — Benghazi, deleted emails. Nothing seemed to stick.
It was not until 9 p.m. ET on election night that a Trump victory became a real possibility to many people.
Five months later, it is clear the Democratic Party is starting to come to terms with Trump’s presidency and is fighting him tooth and nail — despite no meaningful election until November 2018.
We have heard calls for impeachment proceedings, claims of improper associations with the Russian government, accusations of conflicts of interest — anything it takes to get people riled up and angry at Trump.
In Congress, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has not only opposed everything associated with Trump, but has also employed every parliamentary tactic to obstruct the Trump agenda — including blocking Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation and nearly every one of Trump’s Cabinet nominees.
Compare that to how Republicans handled President Barack Obama when they were in the minority in the House and Senate, from 2008-2010. Sure, they voiced their opposition and issued press releases. They did not, however, use every opportunity to obstruct, short of pitching temper tantrums on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The previous administration has handed the Republicans a gift. It is obvious some Obama administration officials snooped on the Trump transition team. Even if it was inadvertent, which just defies logic, the federal government spied on political opponents and leaked information about it to the press. We know this because the conversations of former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn with the Russian ambassador ended up in the newspaper.
Yeah, sure — it did not look good because he was talking to the Russian ambassador. But Republicans should not be focused on that.
No, instead they need to promote slogans like “Obama spied, and Susan Rice lied.” They should attack Democrats for being dismissive of the Fourth Amendment and spying on American citizens. After all, if they will brazenly spy on an incoming president, why wouldn’t they spy on you and me as well?
Instead, Republicans and their leaders in the House and Senate are allowing Trump’s opponents to control the narrative. Even after Trump ordered a strike against an airbase in Syria, an ally of the Russian government, they are still allowing a heavy focus on the congressional investigations into alleged Russia and Trump collusion during the election.
The point is, both these issues may be much ado about nothing. But in politics, if you want to win it does matter.
Certainly, it is harder to do so without the complicity of an undeniably anti-Trump media. Keep in mind, however, Trump not only has the most prominent bully pulpit in the world, he also has a Twitter account with 27.6 million followers.
If Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are willing to emphasize and exaggerate to slow down Trump’s momentum, there ought to be some similar countertactics in place.
But for now, Republicans don’t seem to have the fire in the belly to do so.