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 TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president 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 ManafortTrump to declassify controversial text messages, documents related to Russia probe Mueller asks court to schedule Flynn sentencing Manafort went ‘above and beyond’ with plea deal, says ex-federal prosecutor 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 ZinkeBig-game hunters infuriated by Trump elephant trophy debacle Interior moves ahead with opening wildlife refuge next to contaminated nuclear site House panel approves bill to boost park funding MORE, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTrump announces tariffs on 0B in Chinese goods Trump: China tariff announcement to come Monday afternoon Trump could hit China with tariffs of 0 billion as soon as Monday MORE, and resigned Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceWhite House officials discussing potential replacements for FEMA chief: report Overnight Health Care: CBO finds bill delaying parts of ObamaCare costs B | Drug CEO defends 400 percent price hike | HHS declares health emergency ahead of hurricane HHS should look into Azar's close ties to the drug industry MORE, to Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossTrump moving forward with additional 0 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods: report Here are the administration officials who have denied they wrote the anonymous NYT op-ed CNN: Trump searching for Woodward sources in White House 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.”