WASHINGTON - On one level, things have never been worse for Democrats. They donâ€™t have the White House, majorities in Congress or a reliable fifth vote on the Supreme Court. They hold governorships in only 15 states and hold just 42 percent of state legislative seats. But that in a sense is looking backward - how they did in past elections. Now, oddly, they are seeing some impressive successes, or at least defending successfully against defeats. And as of now, they have a healthy lead in generic congressional polling, giving them a decent change to take over the House majority.
Consider that it is entirely possible to end 2017 with Obamacare intact, no new tax plan with cuts for the super-rich, no border wall, no spending cuts tied to the debt ceiling increase and maybe even the Iran deal still in place (although we might very well go down the road of nonnuclear sanctions). They might - remarkably - get a GOP Congress to pass and a GOP president to sign permanent protection for â€śdreamers.â€ť Not all of that may pan out, but a great deal of it will. And that brings up the question: Why are Democrats winning more than they are losing? (Republicans are not tired of winning; they really have no wins to speak of other than one Supreme Court justice.)
Part of the explanation certainly is the jaw-dropping incompetence of the White House and the divisions on the GOP side, which force GOP leaders to come to Democrats for votes for the debt ceiling and government funding bills, thereby enhancing Democratsâ€™ power. Part of their success (or at least avoidance of failure) has to do with the GOPâ€™s shopworn, extreme agenda (e.g. cutting Medicaid) that put off voters and makes Democrats look like they are holding the line against the radical Republicans. And part of their winning strategy has been, candidly, a role reversal with Republicans. Republicans are now the revolutionaries with schemes to dramatically shake up the status quo while Democrats sound like moderates. (Could we just fix Obamacare? Maybe we shouldnâ€™t, you know, destroy Medicaid.) In their newfound role as tinkerers and gradualists, they play to Americansâ€™ fear of radicalism and the unknown.
In the broader sense, Democrats are making the case for sustained, activist government, a position much more in tune with Trumpâ€™s populism and the general electorateâ€™s policy preference than the libertarian-ish philosophy of back-to-the-pre-New-Deal Republicans. Theyâ€™ve made clear that the overwhelming majority of Americans have no stomach for â€śsmall government.â€ť
Democrats have real evidence that we face a serious threat from white nationalism. They are not the worst purveyors of identity politics. They have found full voice in condemning visible racism and in appealing to Americansâ€™ innate sense of fairness.
Democrats have also become more hawkish on defense, willing to get tough with Russia (because Trump wouldnâ€™t) and course-correct on Iran (absent President Barack Obama, there is now strong support for nonnuclear sanctions).
But mostly, I would argue, they have succeeded not when they champion a specific policy but when they defend fundamental values such as the rule of law, religious inclusion, checks and balances, and scientific truth - all vital defenses against an overreaching and dangerously erratic president. In rediscovering the stabilizing effect these pillars of democracy can provide, Democrats have been able to transcend some ideological policy fights and find common ground with many independents and some disaffected Republicans.
Anthony Scaramucci, speaking about White House intrigue, complained, â€śThere are people inside the administration who think it is their job to save America from this president.â€ť Actually, there are people outside the administration who think it is their job to save America from this president - and by and large they are Democrats.
Democrats are told they need an effective, affirmative economic message. Perhaps, but what they really need is to sustain their newfound image as the party of normalcy, democratic (small â€śdâ€ť) norms and sanity. If Republicans are willing to forfeit that intellectual ground, theyâ€™ll soon wind up back in the minority.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.