Dems expand 2018 message to ‘draining the swamp’
Democrats are turning their campaign message to the many scandals swirling around the Trump administration, betting that vows to “drain the swamp” will attract voters to their side in November.
The strategy marks an expansion of the Democrats’ midterm agenda, “A Better Deal,” which up until now has focused almost exclusively on kitchen-table economic issues in lieu of the controversies surrounding President Trump and a growing list of people in his orbit.
In extending their message to include an anti-corruption component, the Democrats are painting the Trump administration — and its Republican supporters on Capitol Hill — as an unscrupulous group that’s using power to pad its own pockets while peddling policies to the highest corporate bidder. The Democrats are promising voters they’d be an alternative: The party that would clean the place up.
“President Trump has embraced the most egregious establishment Republican norms and appointed the most conflict-of-interest-ridden Cabinet in my lifetime,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday at a press briefing on the steps of the Capitol.
“The swamp has never been more foul, or more fetid, than under this president.”
The message is something of a shift for the Democrats. Last summer, they launched their “Better Deal” platform in rural Virginia by unveiling a series of proposals that were laser focused on the economy — and made no mention of the president.
The Democrats had been burned at the polls in 2016, when they’d hinged much of their national campaign on an anti-Trump message, and didn’t want history to repeat itself this year, when they’re hoping to win back control of both chambers.
Yet internal poll results, Democrats say, show that voters respond more favorably to the party’s economic platform when it’s coupled with promises to weed out corruption and the influence of money in Washington. Their response, unveiled Monday, is their “Better Deal for Our Democracy,” which features a series of specific proposals designed to encourage voting, limit the sway of lobbyists, bolster ethics standards for Washington policymakers and reform the nation’s campaign finance laws by barring unlimited and anonymous donations.
“American democracy shouldn’t have a price for entry,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).
It’s also a return to the “drain the swamp” message employed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calf.) in 2006, when Democrats retook the House and Senate.
The Democrats feel they have the ultimate cautionary tale in the current administration. Not only is Trump’s campaign team under investigation for potentially colluding with Russia to swing the election, but a number of Cabinet secretaries and other top officials are also facing allegations of ethics violations or other misconduct.
Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, is under fire for enjoying lavish travel arrangements and securing a seemingly sweetheart lease agreement from the wife of an energy lobbyist with business before the agency.
Ben Carson, who leads the Department of Housing and Urban Development, churned headlines earlier this year when it was found he’d ordered a $31,000 taxpayer-funded table for his office at the request of his wife.
Trump’s budget chief, former Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), raised eyebrows last month when he told a group of banking executives that his policy had been to meet only with those lobbyists who’d donated to his campaign.
Tom Price, the former Health and Human Services secretary, resigned last September after revelations that he favored costly charter flights at taxpayers’ expense.
And Democrats are attacking Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, for accepting millions of dollars from large corporations in return for promised access to the president.
“Instead of delivering on his promise to ‘drain the swamp,’ President Trump has become the swamp,” Pelosi said at Monday’s messaging event.
“We want Republicans and their corrupt, big donor-driven agenda to get out of the way. It has given the American people a raw deal.”
Republicans quickly responded with charges that Democrats were being hypocritical. Both Schumer and Pelosi, they point out, frequently tour the country raising millions of dollars in campaign contributions for their party, much of it from the same type of well-heeled interests the Democrats decried Monday.
And one GOP operative noted that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who was recently cleared of criminal wrongdoing after facing charges of trading political favors for private gifts, might not have gotten off so freely if the Democrats’ promises to crack down on “pay-to-play” arrangements were adopted.
“I’d be curious to hear what Schumer thinks about Menendez in light of this proposal,” said Sarah Dolan, communications director of the America Rising PAC.
Democrats vow that if they win the power in Washington, they’ll enact new campaign finance laws that would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision by putting caps on donations and outlawing anonymous contributions in the name of accountability and transparency.
“In this election, phony front groups with names like ‘Rhode Islanders for Puppies and Peace and Prosperity’ are going to show up on our televisions and pour their smear ads into our living room. And all of it is anonymous,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
“People in this country feel like they’re not being listened to by government,” he added. “It’s because they’re not.”