Candidates take note: Congressional Democrats figured out how to beat Trump

Soon, many experts will argue that Congress should be forgotten and the real center of the political universe is the presidential candidates and their every move, word, and tweet. But not so fast.

There is a lesson that must be learned from the recent federal funding fight that can help better inform the presidential race watchers and connoisseurs. Before rolling your eyes and going back to tracking who’s in and who’s out in the Democratic presidential primary, take into account these three steps to winning, so far, against President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE.

Democrats in Congress have road-mapped the way to beat him:

Step one: Differentiate

We have all been taught that in order to win a campaign, you must give the voters a reason to support you over an entrenched incumbent, who is connected and established.

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In the lead up to the Democratic victory in 2018, Democrats in the House and the Senate and candidates in blue, red, and purple Congressional Districts and states had one thing in common: opposition to the President. But being opposed to someone or something is never enough to win an election.

The Democrats ran in large part on protecting Americans with preexisting conditions and their right to get affordable health care. Democrats were the last line of defense between those who have a preexisting condition seeking protection and Republicans who were accused of voting or wanting to take it away.

That is a powerful differentiator and an election winner.

Step two: Work together when you can and challenge when you must

The longest federal government shutdown in American history was not simply a miscalculation by the White House. Democrats not only refused to bend to the President’s will, but demonstrated an impressive display of strength and unity.

Congressional Democrats were now in the majority; confronting and challenging the President on the merits of an unpopular policy including the unwise government shutdown was not only expected by voters, they demanded it. And they won. 

In the next two years, the Democrats will be faced with a myriad of opportunities to stand firm, oppose, and challenge the White House. And they will. But the chance for some bipartisan legislation, no matter how remote, will present itself and the Democrats will have to determine whether it will lead to bill signings.

The last step: Isolate, ignore, disregard — or any combination of the three

As Democrats began negotiations in earnest with Congressional Republicans, the White House, no matter the spin, was not an integral partner in the talks. 

The president was “not happy,” but he signed the bill that passed both the House and Senate with a veto-proof margin and was presented to him as a fait accompli.

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The president is battling on many fronts: the campaign trail, where he would rather focus his energies; the Mueller investigation, which he wishes would go away; the trade war with China, which he plans to win or escalate, just to name a few. But the one institution or group he cannot dismiss is Congressional Democrats in charge of the House of Representatives.

If there are opportunities for bipartisanship, Democrats will be more than willing to be partners. But in this political environment, made even more toxic by the president’s emergency declaration, House Democrats will differentiate, challenge, and isolate the president when they must.

As The Hill’s Feb 16, 2019 headline read: Dems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters. 

I will leave it to others to pontificate about the winners and losers of the latest battle royale between Congress and the White House, as there inevitably will be more.

The lists have been published, and overwhelmingly Congress worked its will and continued to reestablish the Constitutional premise as a coequal branch of government that cannot be ignored this election cycle.

It’s possible that — in the process — they’ve shown Democratic candidates the way to victory in 2020.

Nadeam Elshami is policy director at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a lobbying law firm. He was formerly chief of staff for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). He has 25 years of experience in Congress, including negotiating policy on behalf of Democratic leadership and forming bipartisan relationships that helped move key pieces of legislation through a gridlocked Congress.