The Democratic Party never thought to have a president as unpopular as Donald Trump — and the press can’t do much to help.
Of the many political surprises 2020 through 2022 held for U.S. progressives, one, in particular, stands out among the rest.
The Democratic Party never thought to have a president as unpopular as Donald Trump. If voters would have blamed Trump for it, they seem equally intent on blaming Joe Biden.
From its top elected officials and party leadership down to recently registered Democratic voters, the idea that President Biden’s dismal approval ratings are hovering down around Trump’s — as they have been throughout most of his presidency — still comes as a shocking surprise.
For Democrats, it all started in early 2016, when it was, “clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled forever.”
But like the unsuspecting aristocrats lampooned and lamented in equal measure by Charles Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities, Democrats were poised on the brink of a very rude surprise.
The rude surprise was the election of Donald Trump in November 2016. Nothing, or so progressives believed then, could ever be as shocking as Hillary Clinton’s doomed victory party.
In 2020, things appeared to be getting back on track for Democrats. Donald Trump was, they thought, fading into the rearview mirror and the “adults” were back in charge again at last.
But things haven’t gone so well for the Biden Administration since then. Digging out from COVID-19 was always going to be a challenge for any President, but Democrats have also been beset by missteps and dogged by policy failures.
“Defund the Police,” was an unmitigated disaster that has become inextricably and synonymously linked, fair or unfair, with rates of sharply rising crime and the Democratic Party.
The U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan can be described as chaotic as best. Other foreign policy failures, gaffes, and snafus have muddied the international waters on Biden’s watch even further.
But the most all-encompassing woe to beset the Biden Administration has undoubtedly been persistently high inflation and the weakening economy.
While the press touts, “historic job growth,” during Biden’s first year as President — without mentioning the growth consists of recovered jobs lost during COVID-19 rather than new jobs created — and begs voters, “Don’t blame Joe Biden for high inflation,” the polls have reflected a different, if conflicting, story.
Most Americans understand how a recession works: First consumers stop spending; next, companies lose money; then, companies start downsizing.
The idea that money — their own — should be so all-important to working-class Americans as to surpass abstract concerns about the latest, “threat to democracy,” is something many Democrats are having trouble grasping.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was met with skepticism last week when she optimistically declared Democrats would keep their majority in the House of Representatives after the midterms. Though hers was always the minority view, her reasoning was explained by a subsequent statement.
“I cannot believe anybody would vote for these people,” House Speaker Pelosi told the New York Times candidly.
It is a sentiment echoed over and over again in media echo chambers. Every outlet from the LA Times to NBC called the rosy Republican outlook at the midterm, “baffling.”
“Why are you supporting an election denialist?” NBC host Chuck Todd pressed Republican Governor Chris Sununu during an interview last Sunday. “And do you think the inflation issue is enough to sort of rationalize support for somebody who thinks school buses of voters are going to show up in New Hampshire?”
“Yeah, let me tell you, you’re in a bubble, man,” Governor Sununu responded. “I love you, Chuck, but you are in a bubble if you think anybody’s talking about what happened in 2020, or talking about Mar-a-Lago and all that. I know the press loves to talk about it.”
“People are talking about what is happening in their pocketbooks, every single day when they have to buy groceries or fill up gas,” Sununu continued before being interrupted by Chuck Todd.
“Should they be, though?” the NBC host wanted to know.
Well, the answer to that question depends on if you’ve ever had your electricity disconnected due to nonpayment, had your car repossessed, been evicted, or experienced food insecurity.
Concerns about basic survival — food, water, shelter — trump everything else, including, it would seem, Donald Trump.
As some philosophers enduringly popular with progressives have noted, ivory-towered morality isn’t something easily afforded by the impoverished classes.
Desperation, financial penury, and destitution do not necessarily bring out the best in people. Wealthy members of the media should forget any absurd fairy tales about the noble poor sacrificing their own basic survival needs for a wealthy journalist’s abstract idea of the, “greater good.”
No, Tiny Tim’s dad will not be letting the family go hungry this holiday season so Ebenezer Scrooge can sleep better in his penthouse at night knowing democracy is protected from the scourge of 2020 election deniers — which, the working-class poor are to understand, are far more of an existential threat than 2016 election deniers.
Belatedly, Democrats are starting to realize their biggest problem was never Donald Trump, nor as easily handled as Trump. Trump could be defeated in an election, impeached, and investigated from now until the heat death of the universe or bankruptcy, whichever comes first.
The 75 million people who voted for Trump in 2020 — and the Republican voters who wrested House leadership from Nancy Pelosi this week, can’t be dismissed as easily as Trump.
It is these voters, together with independent voters and a fair few former Democrats, who are the real obstacles to the Democratic Party policy platform and its goals.
In fighting Donald Trump, Democrats forgot about the voters hidden in his enormous shadow. Perhaps Democrats thought the media would be able to convince enough Republicans to abandon the party, given two years and the events of January 6.
That strategy might have worked…if so many prospective and persuadable voters hadn’t already turned the channel from NBC, MSNBC, ABC, CNN, Washington Post, and the New York Times.
Viewership and readership for media outlets with a progressive bent have fallen off a cliff in recent years. Meanwhile, conservative media — a genre once comprised exclusively of Rush Limbaugh, talk radio, and FOX News — has experienced explosive growth during the same period.
New conservative-leaning media outlets are springing up everywhere. Many are becoming very popular. Newsmax drew 5 million viewers on election night. Independent news sources, from Substack to YouTube, are proving equally profitable, if not even more so.
In concentrating so exclusively on the faults of their sworn enemy Donald Trump, the Democratic Party lost sight of some of its weaknesses in the glare. Namely, the Democratic Party is being accused, not without reason, of abandoning their once-mighty working-class coalition.
The Democratic Party is guaranteed nothing; it never was. Not in 2016. Not in 2020. Not in 2022. And not in 2024.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)