Supporters of the Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff after his loss in Georgia on Tuesday night. Credit David Goldman/Associated Press
In her much-read New York Times column “Donald Skunks the Democrats,” Maureen Dowd skates quite close to the truth before swerving off into mendacious Timesland fantasy.
Writing in the aftermath of Jon Ossoff’s embarrassing defeat by Karen Handel in Georgia, Dowd begins by acknowledging the obvious:
You know who is really sick and tired of Donald Trump winning, to the point where they beg, “Please, Mr. President, sir, it’s too much”?
Yep. The Democrats, as Dowd, says, “just got skunked four to nothing in races they excitedly thought they could win because everyone they hang with hates Trump.”
“To skunk,” verb, transitive: “to defeat someone overwhelmingly in a game or contest, especially by preventing them from scoring at all.”
Why did this happen? Dowd peeps gingerly over the inky ideological carapace of the Times: “If Trump is the Antichrist, as they believe, then Georgia was going to be a cakewalk, and Nancy Pelosi was going to be installed as speaker before the midterms by acclamation.”
“If.” But what if not? The Georgia race, just like all the other special elections since November 9, “turned into another soul-sucking disappointment.”
Does that mean—could it be—that Donald Trump is not the Antichrist after all?
The logic of Dowd’s argument hints at that awful possibility. But that flicker of sanity is quickly extinguished by a cataract of Demspeak. Dowd quotes Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio. Yes, it’s Trump 4, Dems zero, Ryan admits. But why? How could this be?
Trump does robo calls. He tweets. He talks about the races. He motivates his base, and he moves the needle, and that’s a problem for us. Guys, we’re still doing something wrong here because a) he’s president and b) we’re still losing to his candidates.
Memo to Tim Ryan (and please pass it along to Maureen Dowd): Republicans are winning all over the country, as much or more in local and states races as in national ones, not because Donald Trump makes robo calls, because he tweets, or because he “motivates the base.”
Nope, the Republicans are winning everywhere because people like what they are selling. They especially like what Donald Trump is selling: an America-first attitude that unapologetically makes the U.S. economy and U.S. national security top priorities.
This is the hard truth that Dowd skated close to but couldn’t quite face. According to Dowd,
The Republicans have a wildly unpopular, unstable and untruthful president, and a Congress that veers between doing nothing and spitting out vicious bills, while the Democratic base is on fire and appalled millennials are racing away from Trump. Yet Democrats are stuck in loser gear.
The Dems are in “loser gear,” alright, but this fact is puzzling to Dowd because 1) she can’t grasp the deep popularity of Trump’s central policies and 2) she somehow believes that the appalling behavior of the Democratic “base” is a net positive. It isn’t.
Dowd says that “Trump’s fatal flaw is that he cannot drag himself away from the mirror.” But who is the more egregious narcissist, Donald Trump or a Democrat like Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, who told Dowd: “We congenitally believe that our motives are pure and our goals are right”?
I think Rahm is right about that cluster of beliefs. It’s a species of self-infatuation that owes a lot to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was always going on about his superior “virtue” even though he behaved in a disgusting way. He nevertheless believed that because he was saturated by the emotion of virtue and was convinced by the purity of his motives it didn’t matter (to take one example) that he deposited the five or six children he fathered with his mistress in an orphanage.
Just so, Rousseau’s great disciple Maximilien Robespierre was also “on fire,” which is why he could speak in glowing terms of “virtue and its emanation, terror.” Who can doubt that all those CNN broadcasters who spew obscenities about Donald Trump, the comics who pose for a photo with a bloody severed head in the likeness of the president, the “ethics” professors who attend rallies and bash Trump supporters over the head with bicycle locks, the disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporters who try to murder Republican congressmen as they practice for a baseball game—who can doubt that they and their fellow-travelers would relish a turn operating the guillotine as did Robespierre?
Rahm Emanuel went on to say that “you’ve got to run a good campaign. In elections, politics matter. Oooh, what a surprise.” That’s supposed to be the worldly-wise, bracingly cynical voice of experience. “See what a grown-up I am: I know you have to win elections to wield power.”
But what Rahm, Tim Ryan, Maureen Dowd, and the other anti-Trump Wise Hats don’t see is that the fundamental issue is not “motivating the base,” running a slicker campaign, and figuring out how to the game the polls, the focus groups, and the public’s credulity. The central issue is solving the problems that people have in their everyday lives. Pace Maureen Dowd, Trump is actually doing that. Sure, everyone she “hangs with hates Trump.” But even as she screams about how “pathetic” and “nuts” Trump is, his administration is moving ahead on the issues that actually matter to people, from immigration and jobs to taxes, health care, and national security.
The Democrats believe that process, sufficiently leavened by the emotion of virtue, is enough to win power. Trump has understood that product matters more than process and that professions of virtue are hollow when unsupported by results.