How Democrats can ensure Trump never runs again
The second impeachment of former President Donald Trump ended as predictably as the first: an acquittal based on evidence that was never actually presented. Even when their eyes were riveted to the grotesque footage of armed insurrectionists invading the Capitol, Republican senators were silently weighing much heavier evidence: When you defy Donald Trump, you may not survive a primary.
They watched themselves on video monitors running for their lives; but all they could think about was running in the next election, or, in the case of some, for president.
For now, it appears that the attempt to stop Trump from seeking office has failed. There is talk about other options, including the application of the 14th Amendment, which bars virtually anyone who took an oath to the Constitution and engaged in insurrection from holding office.
But there is another way Democrats can ensure that Trump cannot run in 2024. They can defeat him in 2021 with policies that deliver meaningful relief. That means focusing the energies of government on continuing to vaccinate the country. As of Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that roughly 38.3 million people had received at least one dose of COVID-9 vaccine. More than 70 million doses have been distributed. The U.S. is now administering about 1.5 million doses each day, a goal set by President Biden when he took office. If, in 2024, COVID-19 is a nightmarish memory instead of a daily crisis, a Trump candidacy will be weakened.
It also means restoring the economy by making the leap from PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) to BBB (Build Back Better) initiatives. In 2008, the last time Democrats won the White House and majorities in the House and Senate, the economy was in meltdown. Across suburbia, home foreclosure signs sprouted among the dandelions; the automobile and airline industries were in free fall. Congress passed, and the president signed, measures that saved the economy, but many were tempered by anxieties over political optics and deficits. As a result, too many Americans could not feel the impact. It was like reviving someone’s pulse without any movement of muscles. Lesson learned. Now there can be no whittling down of the investments necessary to bring the economy back to pre-COVID levels. Yes, we should be cautious about deficits and inflation; but unless we fuel this recovery now, it will sputter later.
One way to revive an economy, proven throughout our history, is to build things. When the federal government helps to finance infrastructure, jobs are created and dollars are pumped into the economy by an expanded workforce that enjoys greater economic mobility. Read Felix Rohatyn’s excellent book “Bold Endeavors” if you want to understand the essential ingredients to building and rebuilding an economy, from the Erie Canal to the interstate highway system. Every dollar of infrastructure investment creates about 50,000 jobs and returns $6 to the economy. Infrastructure investments have another salutary effect: When people see their roads paved, their trains running on time, their water supplies pure, they become more optimistic about the future. Trump’s “American carnage” will not sell when voters feel both progress and prosperous.
And here is an unorthodox idea: Democrats should support efforts by principled conservative Republicans to reclaim their party. Democrats have a vested interest in the restoration of true conservatism to the GOP. We may disagree on much, but we do agree on the norms of democracy. Governance requires negotiation; and as has been said, “you can’t negotiate with terrorists.” The way to depower the Trump movement is to empower his Republican adversaries. In other words, help leaders such as Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to deliver tangibly to their constituents.
Pundits are dour on the prospects of House and Senate Democrats protecting their slim majorities in the midterm elections. But this political cycle is more Roosevelt in 1934 and Bush in 2002 than Trump in 2024. In those prior moments, the president’s party gained seats in the midterm elections (which has happened only five times in history) and established a strong foundation for their own reelections. How? Voters looked around at the evidence and rewarded the party in power. Now it is up to Democrats to build their case so that COVID-19 and a troubled economy – as well as Donald Trump – become a distant memory.
Steve Israel represented New York in the House of Representatives over eight terms and was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.