Challenging the Republicans, Part 2: Will you stick with obstructionism?
Although defeating Donald Trump is essential, that is not the only essential goal that needs to be achieved in the coming election. Long before the rise of Trump, the Republican Party of our times has been playing a destructive role in the American system, and that party must be stripped of its power.
Otherwise, although a Clinton victory would avert the Trump catastrophe, it will not also enable the American political system to take constructive action to build a better America. Not if the GOP retains the power in Congress to obstruct every proposal, regardless of its merits.
It is true that Trump himself – having given the Republican Party a more blatantly ugly face – will help pull down all the down-ballot Republicans running for House and Senate. That the Democrats should use the grotesque figure at the top of the Republican ticket to drag down the rest was the point of the first installment of this two-part message of strategy.
The idea there was that the Democrats should accentuate the bind in which all Republicans have been put by their repugnant presidential nominee. The bind is this: they don’t want to be tarnished with Trump, but they also can’t afford to alienate the large portion of their base that gave Trump the nomination. We’ve seen – e.g. in the contortions of Republicans like Paul Ryan, John McCain, and Kelly Ayotte – that these Republicans can find no good way out of this dilemma.
Democratic strategy should keep the spotlight on the inability of these Republicans to speak with integrity and stand for anything that even looks like principle. I proposed, for example, that Republican candidates be challenged in this way:
Do you endorse Trump? If so, how do you justify supporting a man to become president who… [fill in the portrait of a man manifestly unfit for that office]? And if you do not endorse him, stand up and be a leader to your followers and tell them why you cannot support this man, even if he is the nominee of your party.
But it would be a serious mistake to campaign as though Trump were the Republicans’ only vulnerability. Trump may be pulling down the whole Republican ticket somewhat, but the needed Democratic victory may require that the whole GOP be pulled down further.
That can be done with what should be a second prong in the Democratic campaign strategy: an aggressive challenge to the Republicans regarding their obstructionism.
Obstructionism is not a legitimate political strategy. By all American political norms, it is simply not acceptable for a political party to put making the president fail their top priority (as they have throughout the presidency of Barack Obama, and quite likely will again with a Hillary Clinton presidency), even at great cost to the nation.
It should not be too difficult to persuade the electorate that the kind of obstructionism that the Republicans have practiced is a betrayal of the nation.
That the Republicans have been allowed to get away with their across-the-board obstructionism for so long – even to profit from it politically – is most regrettable. But the present campaign presents a new and important opportunity to make them pay.
Every Republican candidate should be confronted – by the media, by the public, by Democratic candidates, by Hillary Clinton herself – with some form of this challenge, pushing them to declare what they would do if elected (or re-elected) to the House or Senate.
Tell the voters, oh Republican Candidate, what you will do if you win this seat (in the House or Senate) and the Democrats win the presidency. Will you continue your Party’s unprecedented policy of wholesale obstruction—which has given us the least productive Congress in our history? Or will you seek to work with the other office-holders the people have chosen – including the Democratic president – to find ways to move the nation forward?
Are you going to try to find good solutions to our nation’s problems, or are you going to just try to make the president look bad, as your party has been doing now for seven years?
Again, the job here is to shine a spot-light on what exposes the moral bankruptcy of today’s Republican Party. That Trump is their nominee is one such vulnerability. And the whole Party’s having put the quest for partisan advantage ahead of the good of the nation is another.
Some Republicans have talked about a strategy to support their down-ballot candidates by telling voters of the need for a “check” on a Hillary Clinton presidency. This argument should be turned back against the Republicans, exposing this “check” for whatit really is (judging from their treatment of President Obama): a crippling – for purely partisan reasons — of the America’s ability to move forward and meet our challenges.
Trump is ugly, and his ugliness wears off on his Party. But the Party has its own important ugliness as well.
A strong case can be made to persuade Americans who want their representatives to work to make a better America to reject this Republican Party and elect Democrats to Congress.Democrats should make that case this fall.
Andy Schmookler – who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012 – is the author most recently of WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World – and How We Can Defeat It