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Outsiders vs. Insiders: Change for change’s sake ain’t getting it done in American politics today

If there's one absolute in United States politics today it's that voters are never satisfied. The old saying goes “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” and it's definitely descriptive of the average American observer. This country’s people receive a nonstop bombardment of negativity about politicians from the media, family and friends -- and even casual conversations overheard in public.

It seems like Americans want change for change’s sake yet can’t agree on what such a transformation would Trump on Phoneentail – or who should lead it.

Running for office in the land of the free is a tough prospect by any estimation. To win a political race you must have skin as thick and protective as a rhinoceros (to ward off the flea-infested media), an ability to cheerfully greet thousands of people, the know-how to raise cash by the basketful and understand the “game” enough to execute last second ad-libs and power moves.

It’s also about recognizing you have very few friends when times get tough. The Washington ruling class is out there and if they can’t coopt a newcomer (bring them to the dark side) then he or she instantly earns a new and relentless enemy.

If he hasn’t already, President Donald Trump is learning the lesson these days. In the aftermath of last week’s midterm elections Trump declared victory – as he always does. It’s true, the Republican Party’s House losses were about equal to the historical mean for presidents in their first term, and the GOP did pick-up a couple senate seats -- but in totality the results didn’t quite match what Trump forecasted in the days leading up to the vote (a “red wave”?).

Because of it, people are speculating about what happens in two years when the incumbent president once again tops the ballot. Has Trump’s miraculous streak of luck run its course or is there more magic in him?

Michael Goodwin wrote at The New York Post, “With many on the left absolutely crazed with Trump hatred, they are likely to overplay their hand, as they did during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation. Then the character assassination attempt based on false charges became the defining issue, and it united the GOP to put a crucial fifth constitutional conservative on the Supreme Court.

“But the left’s bad habit will benefit Trump only if he keeps his cool and stays focused on the nation’s business. It doesn’t mean he can’t hit back, it just means he has to pick his spots with an eye toward winning the war, not just the battle. Anything that moves his agenda forward and keeps another promise is the best course, even if he has to swallow some insults and compromises.

“If he can do that, voters are more likely to remember why Trump was elected and notice that Dems face problems of their own. There is a growing gap between the left and far left, and Tuesday’s demonstration outside Pelosi’s office, led by incoming New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, illustrates the pressures the party faces from its socialist-leaning members.”

Yes indeed, Democrats are dealing with their own set of intra-party demons. Republicans put their leadership dilemma to rest the other day by (for better or worse) elevating California establishmentarian Rep. Kevin McCarthy to the Minority Leader’s position in the next Congress. With his new responsibility McCarthy must accomplish several things simultaneously, just like Trump could stand to slightly alter his public approach.

First, McCarthy must remind voters he’s not Paul Ryan and the GOP caucus will not repeat the mistakes they’ve made for over eight years now (the time they’ve controlled the House). The most glaring of those errors is the predominant attitude among past Republican leaders that they need to keep apologizing for the president.

The leftist media always asks about the latest Trumpian quote or tweet and some Republicans eagerly “condemn” the presidential utterance with gimpy contrite sayings like “This is not who we are,” or, “we’re better than that.” Well, assuming they’re right – and party members aren’t compelled to defend everything that comes out of Trump’s fertile mind -- then who exactly are we as a country?

Second, McCarthy and crew must be more aggressive and combative to Nancy Pelosi and the new Democrat majority. Democrat committee heads have already laid out an impressive list of subjects they intend to investigate over the next two years, and as Goodwin noted above, they’ll likely go overboard along the way. This doesn’t mean Republicans should sit back and whimper like they’re defending a five-on-three power play in hockey.

And it doesn’t mean they’ll be better off icing the legislative “puck” either.

McCarthy and the GOP may not set the calendar now but they still can highlight issues that aren’t being addressed by Democrats. Kooks like the newly elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may actually end up being de facto allies in this endeavor, creating a wave of internal Democrat opposition to a more cautious approach by the Democrat establishment (but here’s thinking Pelosi will put the New York socialist newbie in her place somehow).

Three, for his part Trump must accept Goodwin’s and others’ admonition to alter his behavior a tad. Trump’s boasted and cajoled his way through three years of wild presidential politics but perhaps now is the time to tone down the rhetoric (again, just a little) and accept that he/Republicans won’t always “win” elections and not everything is a positive development for his administration (see below).

Experts say the wishy-washy “suburbs” are the key to winning in 2020 and Trump’s mannerisms and diction apparently mean more to these people dwelling on the outskirts of cities than burgeoning economic growth, jobs, consumer confidence, peace abroad and wage increases. As 2018 amply demonstrated, politics may not be summed up as “the economy stupid” anymore (like it was for Big Bubba Bill Clinton in 1992).

Likewise, the president doesn’t need to abandon his America First orientation but the public relations hits he’s taken from recent trips abroad (such as from his commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of WW I) lessen his ability to negotiate with foreign leaders from a strong and advantageous position. Every president takes criticism over foreign policy – again, voters are never satisfied – but diplomacy is diplomacy… it involves being “diplomatic,” right?

Lastly, Republicans must ingrain the concept of principle trumping politics in every respect. Voters admire leaders who stand for something and are willing to fight for it (in a tactful and effective way). Trump enjoys nearly fifty percent approval today (in some polls) because people know his word is worth something, even if they don’t always appreciate the way he says things. If McCarthy is to succeed as House GOP leader he’ll need to fight hard for the Republican agenda. Anything less guarantees a long stay in the minority.

Recently vanquished Republicans weren’t wild about Trump’s post-election news conference where the president named names and poopooed the loss of members who didn’t openly support him in their reelection attempts. Juliegrace Brufke reported at The Hill, “House Republicans mocked by President Trump after their midterm losses are pushing back on his rhetoric, arguing that embracing the commander in chief wouldn’t have changed the outcome of their races…

“Along with [Colorado Rep. Mike] Coffman, Trump slammed Reps. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.), John Faso (R-N.Y.) and Mia Love (R-Utah) for not embracing him on the campaign trail. All lost their reelection bids. ‘You had some that decided to ‘let's stay away, let's stay away,’’ he said. ‘They did very poorly. I’m not sure that I should be happy or sad, but I feel just fine about it.’

“He got even more personal with Love, who trails her Democratic challenger by a little more than 1,000 votes in a race that has yet to be called. ‘Mia Love gave me no love. And she lost,’ he said. ‘Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.’”

All of these “moderate” Republicans were swamped by the Democrats’ “blue wave,” which is ironic since many liberal commentators claim GOP lawmakers must “moderate” their positions to make themselves more politically palatable to a change-hungry electorate that demands “results” and “getting stuff done” regardless of who achieves it or what’s done.

Maybe Trump shouldn’t have publicly called the RINOs out in the manner in which he did. It certainly didn’t boost the president’s own political cause to make it sound like these wishy-washy establishment Republicans would’ve triumphed in their races if they’d only worn a red Make America Great Again hat to all of their campaign events and flashed images of a Trump-hug in their TV ads. It might’ve helped them – but would it have tipped the balance?

Probably not. Most if not all of these poor GOPers suffered more from the inertia of House Republican leaders than being lumped in with Trump. The establishment’s averseness to advance any issues that might place them on an electoral cliff doesn’t aid anyone’s argument that they should be sent back to Washington for another term.

Just imagine if this term a Republican House passed an immigration bill addressing all four of Trump’s “pillars” of reform, or a full repeal of Obamacare along with a proposal to increase insurance competition and lower everyone’s costs while still providing a safety net for preexisting conditions. Voters in these poor Republicans’ districts would’ve had something to chew on instead of additional assurances of “if you give me/us two more years we’ll really, really get it done THIS time!”

Wouldn’t supporting popular Republican ideas be better than halfheartedly declaring, “I’ll support Trump on those issues where we agree but principally oppose him when we don’t.” What kind of mental picture does this word salad paint? Are you with us or against us? Do you make us want to slog to the polls and punch your name on the ballot? What would you do with another term? Why bother?

Does anyone vote for a “hybrid” or “maverick” John McCain-like candidate anymore? If so, who?

Further, some of these places are downright demographically unfriendly to Republicans. It isn’t just Trump. My own district (VA-10 with incumbent Republican Barbara Comstock) has been slowly tilting blue for a long time, so much so that it’s difficult to see how the GOP will ever win it back. Trends are trends…just as West Virginia is now one of the reddest states in the country northern Virginia has become solid blue. Conservatives are fleeing the area only to be replaced by big government-loving federal employees and other Democrat constituencies. It’s a fact.

The Old Dominion isn’t a total loss but Republicans in urban areas had better not come across to voters as hamstrung and weak – otherwise these RINO reps’ fate will be etched in stone.

As far as political discourse in this country goes, it only figures to get nastier and more intense with a presidential election so close at hand. Neither side has much incentive to ease off the rhetorical accelerator now. Jonah Goldberg wrote at National Review, “Pelosi may want to hold off on impeachment proceedings, at least until special counsel Robert Mueller releases his report. But it’s doubtful the Democratic base shares her patience. And it remains unlikely that Mueller will find anything that would induce a third of Senate Republicans to vote to remove Trump from office. (Removal requires 67 Senate votes.)

“This could create the same dynamic that led 17 Republicans to throw their hats into the ring in the 2016 presidential primaries. The Obama team poured attention on Trump because they thought it would make the GOP look bad. Instead, they elevated him. It’s likely Trump could pursue the same strategy with some Democratic firebrand.

“Trump never won a majority of primary votes. He merely had a strong and loyal enough following to get a plurality in a divided field. The bigger the field, the fewer votes you need to win. The greater the passion in the base, the more incentive there is to pander to it. And that’s why it’s all going to get even crazier.”

It’s true. Democrats look to have a huge field of candidates. Name recognition and street credibility will be essential for any candidate looking to separate themselves from the pack. Former Obama VP Joe Biden continues to lead in early polls but Hillary Clinton keeps cropping up to comment on current happenings, saying outlandish things that prove she’s every bit as nutty and unrepentant as before – here’s thinking she’ll run again.

Voters seeking change for change’s sake will certainly find something to their liking in 2020. Republicans have Donald Trump, the ultimate combatant against the Washington swamp. Then there are dozens of Democrats who’ll do whatever it takes to irk Trump and lessen his appeal to his own base. Will the “blue wall” be reconstructed or will Trump make a comeback?

American voters aren’t ever satisfied and it seems they favor divided government and all it entails. Nancy Pelosi and Democrats will give them all the resistance, obstruction and rancor they can handle in the next two years. Hopefully by that time voters will see that a little stability and success ain’t so bad after all.

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