My polling cohort, older white men, took a public-relations beating during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings — and I say it’s about time. Never in modern political history have so many been given so much by our culture and yet have been so casual about the health of the Republic.
Yet the future could hardly look rosier to Republican elders, according to their head cheerleader, President Donald Trump. The man who George Will calls our “feral President” has now announced that he will depict his female critics as an outraged mob and thus hold on to the Republican majority in the House of Representatives come the November midterms. His latest feminist target is Sen. Diane Feinstein, who he criticized at a recent campaign rally as fans chanted “lock her up.”
What the angry white male writing this column wants to know is who will hit back for the Democrats? Liberals need to flip around two dozen seats to turn the House into the anti-Trump speed break this county needs so desperately. Caucasians males over 40 are still calling the shots for the Trump base, and despite being an inelastic minority they could control the 2018 and 2020 elections. That is, unless a new generation of Democratic leaders can rally the female voters who — polling suggests — are deeply displeased by the direction of this country and the behavior of its chief executive.
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My polling cohort, older white men, took a public-relations beating during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings — and I say it’s about time.
Right now, macho Republicans and their older, female enablers have a good chance of prevailing over the 50-plus percent of likely voters who consistently disapprove of Trump, according to running compilations of Real Clear Politics polls. The celebrated Trump base still packs a punch, and it’s not because Congressional Republicans have charismatic spokesmen. We live in a world in which one of the least telegenic men in the Republican Party, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, dares to lecture the nation on values, cheered on by a senescent toady, Chuck Grassley, the conniption-prone, neo-Dixiecrat Lindsay Graham and Susan Collins, the new arch-enabler of men who don’t get it.
Rather, geezers rule the capital because you can’t beat something with nothing, and the senior citizens in charge of the Democratic future seem clueless about the performance politics it will take to rally the almost six-out-ten majority of voters who regularly condemn Trump’s job performance. As often happens, the writers for Saturday Night Live lanced the boil, this time with their parody of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as a sleepy defeatist. Rank-and-file Democrats across the country know that Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have only one tool in their rhetorical kit, droning toward the Apocalypse. And it’s not going to be enough to beat the Republicans.
So how should Democrats counterpunch the angry mob strategy unveiled this week by the White House? They need a generational coup that fights rage with rage. They need to throw everything into the battle begun by the #Me Too movement and the solidly anti-Trump national news media. Grassroots Democrats are weary of a leadership that won’t fight back. Sen. Corey Booker’s “stand-up” speeches in Iowa seem designed to harness voters’ hunger for a champion willing to stand toe to toe with Trump’s graybeard bullies.
And a coalition of outraged women and like-minded (and yes, younger) men could win. But it will require an immediate push for the graceful retirement of Schumer and Pelosi. The party needs to make it clear that Schumer won’t be majority leader and Pelosi won’t be speaker if a blue wave switches control of the Hill. In their place, Democrats need to elevate the stars of the Kavanaugh hearings and new faces like Beto O’Rourke of Texas. Such a newly energized Democratic base has the potential to trump Trump’s coalition of angry men and the shrinking cohort of suburban Republican women who listen to them.
Hunker-down Democrats will retort that this is no time to be eating our old. Some may claim that voters will see through the president’s simplistic attempt to de-legitimize feminist anger while whipping up his old boys. But a cautious response ignores the fact that Trump is his most dangerous when he looks simplistic or even stupid. This is not the season for pacifist Democrats.
The polls have never failed to show an uncoalesced anti-Trump majority, but now that Trump has effectively nationalized the election, the ball is in the Democrats’ court. The way to beat a coalition of the privileged is with a coalition of the aggrieved, and that won’t be pretty. Democrats have to do what their party did routinely in the John F. Kennedy/Lyndon B. Johnson era — get as down and dirty as the other side.
Free-floating anger has always been part of national or nationalized elections. At times, partisan leverage has been anti-corporation, anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic and of course, anti-black. That history reminds us that Trump’s coalition of the aggrieved could also be labeled a coalition of the bigoted or the anti-modern. The worst thing Democrats could do is assume that the racism and religious zealotry rearing up across the American political map will simply have to run its course, as did the tsunami of bigotry that made the Ku Klux Klan a national force in the 1920s.
Partly as a result of the rise of cable television, screenwriters have become a force in the nation’s political culture. In the trailer for the upcoming (and final) season of “House of Cards,” newly elected commander-in-chief Clair Underwood (Robin Wright) gets right to the point: “The reign of middle-aged white men is over.” That line catches the spirit of a wonderfully dramatic but supremely dangerous moment in the 2018 campaign. Will the election be decided by the fictional mood of President Underwood’s Washington, or the real-life misogyny of the Washington of Senator McConnell, Justice Kavanaugh and President Trump?