Despite scandalous headlines, Democrats must turn to policy

Despite scandalous headlines, Democrats must turn to policy
© Greg Nash

Last Tuesday could well prove to be one of the most consequential days of the Trump presidency. It was a day when the sitting president of the United States was implicated in a criminal conspiracy, and the first time since the Nixon years that the head of a presidential campaign has been convicted of federal crimes.

Regardless of whatever else special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE discovers in his probe, the events of August 21 firmly put to rest the idea that the Russia investigation is “just a witch hunt,” as President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE has repeatedly claimed. Crimes were shown to have been committed by some of those closest to him, and the perpetrators now have been successfully prosecuted or willingly pleaded guilty, as well.

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From a political perspective, the convictions of former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortRoger Stone shares, quickly deletes Instagram photo of federal judge on his case Mueller probe figures use fame to pay bills Mueller subpoenas former Cambridge Analytica employee MORE and the guilty pleas of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen are a clear boost for Democrats and a huge liability for Republicans heading into the midterm elections.

This administration already has been plagued by numerous scandalous headlines that call into question its ethical character. From the private plane trips by Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House Zinke, Lewandowski join Trump veterans’ lobbying firm Is a presidential appointment worth the risk? MORE, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinWhite House confirms new trade talks with China Hillicon Valley: Facebook weighs crackdown on anti-vaccine content | Lyft challenges Trump fuel standards rollback | Illinois tries to woo Amazon | New round of China trade talks next week On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week MORE, and resigned Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceIs a presidential appointment worth the risk? Former Ryan aide moves to K street Grassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices MORE, to Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossWhite House confirms new trade talks with China EU threatens ‘swift and adequate’ action if Trump imposes tariffs on imported cars Supreme Court to hear census citizenship case this term MORE continuing to hold stakes in foreign companies with business before the U.S. government despite claims he made to the Senate that he had divested, the Trump administration has an image problem, and the fact that his campaign chairman and personal lawyer are now convicted felons will only further hurt Republican chances at the ballot box.

But I would be remiss if I did not say that it would be a grave mistake for Democrats to spend the rest of the election focusing solely on the financial crimes of Trump associates. As salacious as the details are, and it would be reasonable to anticipate more information in the coming weeks and months, the majority of moderate voters that Democrats need to win back the House this fall will not be moved by messaging that focuses on the ethical and legal trespasses of Trump world. If they were, they would not have voted for him in 2016 when the moral character of Trump, and those with whom he surrounds himself, was already readily apparent.

The swing voters in the districts that Democrats need to win are concerned with issues that impact their everyday lives and their children, such as education, health care and the economy. If Democrats are to succeed in flipping the House in November, they must offer a compelling and distinct alternative to the policies of Republicans in Congress that appeals to a broad swath of American voters, not just the far left.

While some Democratic candidates for Congress, such as Conor Lamb in southwestern Pennsylvania, have demonstrated that they understand the importance of focusing on kitchen table issues, I worry that far too many other candidates have fallen into the trap of either running solely against Trump or running on pie in the sky policy proposals, such as “Medicare for all” that not only lack broad appeal but are completely infeasible and would set back our country.

Many will disagree with my message here, arguing that I am not taking the criminality of this administration seriously enough. But I say this to them: The protesting, agitating and “resisting” will not mean a thing if Democrats fail to take back the House in November. While Democrats should feel vindicated by the events of the past week, they certainly should not become complacent.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. A longtime political consultant, he is also a Fox News contributor and the author of 11 books, including “Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence.”