Trump­ism seems more en­trenched to­day than ever

The Herald Sun - - Opinion - BY BRETT STEPHENS

For months we’ve heard from sundry me­dia apoc­a­lyp­ti­cians that this year’s midterms were the last exit off the road to au­toc­racy. On Tues­day, the Amer­i­can peo­ple de­liv­ered a less dra­matic ver­dict about the sig­nif­i­cance of the oc­ca­sion. In a word: meh.

Are you in­ter­ested in see­ing Don­ald Trump voted out of of­fice in two years? I hope so — which is why you should think hard about that “meh.” This week’s elec­tions were, at most, a very mod­est re­buke of a pres­i­dent re­viled by many of his op­po­nents, this colum­nist in­cluded, as an un­prece­dented dan­ger to the health of lib­eral democ­racy at home and abroad. The Amer­i­can peo­ple don’t en­tirely agree.

We might con­sider lis­ten­ing to them a bit more — and to our­selves some­what less.

The 28-seat swing that gave Democrats con­trol of the House wasn’t even half the 63 seats Repub­li­cans won in 2010. Yet even that shel­lack­ing did noth­ing to help Mitt Rom­ney’s chances two years later. The Repub­li­can gain in the Se­nate was more pre­dictable in a year when so many red-state Democrats were up for re-elec­tion. But it un­der­scores what a non­wave elec­tion this was.

It also un­der­scores that while “the Re­sis­tance” is good at gen­er­at­ing lots of votes, it hasn’t fig­ured out how to turn the votes into seats. Lib­er­als are free to belly­ache all they want that they have re­peat­edly won the over­all pop­u­lar vote for the pres­i­dency and Congress while still los­ing elec­tions, and that the sys­tem is there­fore “rigged.”

But that’s the sys­tem in which ev­ery­one’s play­ing. It’s also a re­minder that, in pol­i­tics, in­ten­sity is not strat­egy. You have to be able to con­vert.

The Re­sis­tance didn’t con­vert. It didn’t con­vert when it nom­i­nated left-wing can­di­dates in right-lean­ing states like Flor­ida and Ge­or­gia. It didn’t con­vert when it poured its money into where its heart was rather than where the dol­lars were most needed.

It didn’t con­vert when Chuck Schumer chose to make Brett Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion to the Supreme Court a de­ci­sive po­lit­i­cal test. It didn’t con­vert when it turned his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing into a cir­cus. It didn’t con­vert when me­dia lib­er­als re­peat­edly vi­o­lated jour­nal­is­tic stan­dards by re­port­ing un­cor­rob­o­rated ac­cu­sa­tions against Ka­vanaugh that fol­lowed Chris­tine Blasey Ford’s.

Above all, it didn’t con­vert the un­con­verted. It doesn’t take a lot to get the av­er­age voter to tell you what he doesn’t like about Don­ald Trump.

Then again, what does the av­er­age voter think about “the Re­sis­tance”? I don’t just mean the antifa thugs and restau­rant heck­lers and the Far­rakhan Fan Club wing of the women’s move­ment. I mean the rest of the Trump de­spis­ers, the peo­ple who de­test not only the man but also con­demn his vot­ers.

I was a char­ter mem­ber of this camp. In­tel­lec­tual hon­esty ought to com­pel us to ad­mit we achieved pre­cisely the op­po­site of what we in­tended. Trump­ism is more en­trenched to­day than ever. The re­sult of the midterms means, if noth­ing else, that the pres­i­dent sur­vived his first ma­jor po­lit­i­cal test more than ad­e­quately. And un­less Democrats change, he should be seen as the odds-on fa­vorite to win in 2020.

I’d hate to see that hap­pen. I want Trump, and Trump­ism, to lose. But if the Re­sis­tance party doesn’t find a way to be­come a shrewder, hum­bler op­po­si­tion party, that’s not go­ing to hap­pen. The day Democrats take charge in the House would be a good op­por­tu­nity to stop man­ning imag­i­nary bar­ri­cades, and start build­ing real bridges to the other Amer­ica.

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