by Brent Budowsky
As the next round in the battle to save the “Dreamers” begins, Democrats can learn a powerful lesson from the multitudes of women who marched across the nation and vowed to register a million new voters, hours before their party’s surrender in the latest shutdown showdown.
When President Trump’s political campaign ran a television ad falsely accusing Democrats of being “complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants,” Senate Democrats should have lined up, one after another, to ask Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) whether he believes that all Republicans who support the Dreamers are also complicit in these murders. They did not.
When Trump Republicans falsely charged that Democrats would stop military pay and death benefits in seeking to save the Dreamers in the spending bill, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) offered a unanimous consent request to pass a measure that would have excluded military pay and death benefits from the shutdown. McConnell objected and killed the idea.
Every red-state Democratic senator should have risen, one by one, and repeatedly offered the same unanimous consent request, to force McConnell to repeatedly object, making it clear who was protecting the troops and their families and who was not. But Democrats did not.
Instead of waging the fight that they should have waged in the shutdown fight, Democrats first precipitated a mega-crisis and then caved in a mega-surrender. This left many in the base fuming at Democrats who first declared a war they did not fight and then surrendered after a hasty retreat.
I have offered high praise for Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) for their leadership of Senate Democrats, which I continue to offer today, but on the shutdown, they blew it. Those Senate Democrats who undermined their leadership by initiating the stampede for surrender blew it even more.
It is important for Democrats to understand why.
Elections are about which party inspires their supporters to vote more than the other party. Trump is taking a huge risk by governing in a way that hypermotivates his base but hyperalienates the far larger number of voters who oppose or detest him — voters who can give Democrats a landslide victory in 2018 if they come out in large numbers, as they did in 2017, or elect another Republican Congress if they do not.
In the latest shutdown battle, Trump fought like hell for his base. Democrats talked like lions but surrendered like lambs for theirs.
Democrats need to clearly understand why former President Obama, by failing to rally his base in congressional elections, left a legacy of political disaster for Democrats, with Republicans controlling the House, Senate and a majority of governorships and state houses. The reason is the Merrick Garland syndrome.
When Obama nominated Garland to fill an open Supreme Court seat, the nominee was brilliantly qualified and had been praised by many of the same Senate Republicans who call for bipartisanship on immigration today. When McConnell refused to allow Garland a vote, Republicans who praised Garland marched in lockstep to back McConnell to destroy his nomination. Obama did nothing to fight for his nominee, unlike McConnell, who invoked the “nuclear option” to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch in what many Democrats viewed as stealing a Supreme Court seat.
The latest shutdown debacle achieved nothing for Democrats on immigration; all we got was empty words from a president whose word is not his bond, hedged words from McConnell that guarantee nothing and soothing words from Republicans in a bipartisan group who have virtually always voted with Trump regardless of what they say. Words cannot be trusted until they are verified by actions.
As Feb. 8 approaches, Trump will continue to fight like hell for his base. Democrats must clearly decide their strategy, strongly unite behind it, and aggressively fight for it. Democrats have majority public support on most major issues and can mobilize their base and win, but if they do not fight, they cannot win.