There are two fundamental questions facing each political party in Washington today. For the Republicans can they get their act together to retain control of Congress in the November 2018 mid-term elections? Will they continue to acquiesce to the populous, selfish, bigoted, irredentist rhetoric spewing forth from the White House or will they have the backbone to confront it?
This week for the first time there some signs that maybe Republicans were beginning to stir. First, Senator John McCain spoke out for the classic Republican internationalist agenda; for American world leadership, improved management in trade, and concern for Human Rights. He was followed by former President George W. Bush launching a major attack—without naming him—against President Trump’s policies and behavior from Charlottesville to NAFTA to hurricane relief. Bush violated the accepted norm—which he had followed unfailingly throughout the Obama years—of former presidents refraining from attacking an incumbent. (One might surmise that his father, Bush 41, called him afterwards and told him that he spoke for him as well.)
For the Democrats they face the challenge to develop a message that will resonate for the voters in 2018 beyond merely being anti-Trump. They need to analyze the voting base and not go off on an ideological rant. If they proceed carefully, given the current environment, they could actually capture one or more the House of Congress in November 2018.
The other ex-President also got into the act on Thursday accomplishing—he hoped–two things at the same time. Barack Obama went out on the stump for the Democrats running for Governor in New Jersey and Virginia. His obvious message was to registered voters to get out on Election Day in New Jersey and Virginia with than three weeks left and vote for the Democrats. It was, however, the tone of his speeches for Phil Murphy in New Jersey and Ralph Northam in Virginia which was significant.
Obama opted as well to use these speeches not only to urge people to vote but he too broke the rule of ex-Presidents and attacked—also not by name—a sitting President. While this was less earth breaking than Dubya’s speech, it was a substantive attack on the Trump presidency.
All of which makes secondary, the discussion over the budget resolution, tax reform, dreamers, and even the President’s tactically offensive handling of a Gold Star family. The GOP is in trouble and needs traditional voices to stand up to their own extremist conservative right wing. If they fail to find their voice when John McCain is no longer around, they will not prevail—even if Steve Bannon promises the world or challenges all non-alt-right Republicans.
Similarly, the Democrats are fooling themselves if they think they can return so fast to power with a Bernie- Warren message carrier. Whatever good policy goals they wish to enact, must wait; firs they need to get elected. For the Democrats it must be all about getting Blacks and Latinos to vote and then to win.