Will the two anti-Trump axes of opposition unite?
On one axis is the partisan-ideological objection to Trump as hard right reactionary populist. On this axis he is enabled by a GOP Congress mostly (though not entirely) in line with the Trump-Bannon ultra-nationalist/hyper-capitalist worldview (with pseudo-concern for American workers, though only in industries where employment is “hobbled” by the EPA), and culture war against “foreigners” and Muslims. On the other axis is anger at Trump’s corruption, creepy collusion with Putin’s Russia, incompetence, and authoritarian rejection of basic democratic traditions like freedom of the press.
In many cases the two axes build off one another. That certainly happened with Bush from 2006-2008. Back then, the two axes – anger at neo-con ideology and rank incompetence – drove insurgent Democrats (remember Howard Dean?) into a powerful opposition that gave us a Democratic Congress in 2006 and Obama in 2008. But that was after five years of Bush in action and plenty of time for disappointment and reassessment of Bush’s rule, so that people who voted for Bush in 2000 or 2004 could say, “He just doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing anymore.” I remember a typically Republican insurance agent in Michigan telling me in 2006, “Honestly, I think Bush is getting dumber.”
Opposition to Trump has developed at warp speed this time, for a variety of reasons. But the two axes – ideological and performance-based – may take time to coalesce.
There are still many people who think Trump is an incompetent and corrupt jackass who should never be President, but who want him to sign a generic conservative Republican agenda into law. They will agree to investigate Trump, knowing that Pence would deliver on those promises. But they might not be willing to throw in their lot with Democratic Congressional opposition quite yet. If, however, Trumpian chaos leaves the GOP agenda in tatters – ACA repeal, tax “reform,”, etc. – then these voters are likely to abandon their own Republican Congressmen. Not to vote for the Democrat but to disengage entirely. We aren’t there yet though.
On the other side are people who don’t necessarily embrace GOP economic policies but who thought Trump would be a “strong leader” who could run America like a good businessman runs his company. They might be drawn to aspects of Trump’s agenda – perhaps trade or immigration issues – but they were ultimately drawn to Trump as a supposedly fresh outsider who could get things done. Where are these people now? Some of them are undoubtedly disturbed at Trump’s amateurish failures to craft an effective immigration EO and at recurring stories of Russian collusion. But the issue that really bothers them is one that touches their lives directly: the ACA.
Unlike the conservative Republicans who accepted Trump only because he would pass the Congressional GOP agenda, this group opposes that Congressional GOP agenda and thought Trump would protect the ACA and Medicare. And as they come out to town halls in droves, and are accused by both Congressmen and the White House of being “paid protesters,” they are becoming more and more enraged and active. Some of these folks didn’t vote at all and they don’t think of themselves in ideological terms at all. But they are awake now, are getting organized, and are growing in number.
The point of all this is that the collection of outrages emanating from the White House may not bother everybody the same way. Some will infuriate one group, others will aggravate a different group. One group wanted Trump to deliver in an “outsider” way and the other just wants somebody to sign GOP laws. In a year, these points of opposition may be indistinguishable. At that point, Trump is simply “a disaster” – the reasoning will require no explanation – and the most pressing issue for 2018 will simply be to “stop Trump.”
For almost all Democrats and a majority of Independents, these two axes of objection have already coalesced. But to get a massive Democratic wave in 2018, we will need those two axes to coalesce even further and among a greater segment of the population.