President Trump’s first 100 days got an assist, however unintended, from the opposition party.
And that’s because Democratic leaders, through words and action, have shown they haven’t learned lessons from Campaign 2016.
Once Trump took office, they engaged in the same old play-to-the-base and self-indulgence that helped them lose the election; that fosters division, precludes consensus and deconstructs any argument that they (unlike that other party) are solely about serving the public good.
In short, Democrats help Trump by hurting themselves. They help him by behavior reminding voters why he won, which accrues to the benefit of the incumbent.
In the first 100 days, they helped him in at least four ways.
Way one: Their action regarding the nomination of now-Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. It was reactionary and wrong.
Yes, Republicans walked in darkness by refusing to give President Barack Obama’s high-court choice, Merrick Garland, even a confirmation hearing. The nominee was qualified. The GOP abused the process. Democrats screamed foul.
But if it was wrong to oppose a fit nominee in 2016, it was wrong to oppose one in 2017. An opportunity to show partisan restraint was lost. Forcing a Senate “nuclear option” blew up Democrats’ chance to strike a blow for compromise instead of hollow political retribution.
Way two: Democratic National Committee chief Tom Perez’s recent assertion that it is “not negotiable” that “every Democrat” support abortion rights. Plain stupid.
It tears at the fabric of the party’s touted multicolored quilt of inclusion so often used to contrast “closed-minded” Republicans. It’s the base-playing that Trump plays. It tells independents that Democrats are no less ideologically rigid than Republicans.
Way three: Hillary Clinton, back on the speaking circuit, saying at a San Francisco speech in March: “Now is the time to demand the progress we want to see.”
Actually, last year was the time. Many thoughtful Democrats who can’t abide Trump believe that Clinton — not Russia, not FBI Director Jim Comey — had more to do with Trump’s win than any single factor, including Trump.
Reminders of Clinton’s campaign and post-campaign assessments — such as this from the March speech: “There was a recent study showing that none of my plans were really publicized or talked about, so that gives me something for speeches for at least a decade … I will never stop speaking out” — don’t exactly help her party move on. And such reminders refuel Trump loyalists.
Way four: Barack Obama’s decision to cash in (further) by charging $400,000 per speech. As he might say, “C’mon, man.”
As an ex-president, Obama already gets a taxpayer-funded staff, security, a $207,000 pension (about half his presidential salary) plus expenses, which can run to six figures.
And, as reported in March, he and former first lady Michelle Obama snagged book contracts with Penguin Random House paying $65 million-plus.
When is enough enough? I know, all perfectly legal, as American as can be. But there’s something distasteful, no matter who does it, in using public service for personal gain. In this case, it doesn’t help Obama’s brand or, by extension, the brand of his party as it seeks to recapture working-class voters.
None of this is to dismiss Trump’s many serious shortcomings 100 days in. You can assemble your own list. But assessments of Trump at this stage should be weighed in concert with assessments of the opposition, even though the opposition is out of power.
Being without power is not the same as being without purpose or principle. Right now, it’s hard to find much of either in “the party of the people.” And that, so far and going forward, is a plus for President Trump.
John Baer is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.