Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: How can Democrats beat Trump?

Feb 11, 2020

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Hi, everyone, and welcome to our weekly chat. Well, it's all about New Hampshire today, isn't it? I'm in Manchester at the moment, and I'll spare you all the anecdotal midday reports from flinty locals in diners, since that stuff never means anything once the vote-counting actually begins. And yes, this is another state that (like Iowa) looks nothing like the broader Democratic Party coalition. The one factoid that matters at this point is that Joe Biden is skipping his campaign party here tonight and heading to South Carolina, which means he probably doesn't think he'll do well at all. And if you missed it, here's my latest column. Let's get started.

Eugene - Do you think the Democrats in the House used the best possible strategy in the impeachment of Trump? I believed from the beginning that after the phone call/ whistleblower report, they should have open an "inquiry" stating that they were going to investigate the "whole" event and in the end conclude to; do nothing, to censure, to legislate (they are the legislative branch), or to impeach. Given the 50/50 divide in the country on impeachmenr in the end it may have been better to craft legislation that would criminalize his proven behavior and sought censure (putting pressure on the GOP). Also, they could have pushed forward legislation that outlawed or at least required disclosure when the family members of high government officials (all 3 branches) gain compensation from foreign entities.

I think they Democrats did the right thing, and I think it was the only real option. President Trump was caught in the act of trying to coerce foreign interference with the coming election. This was an emergency.

I know this is overly broad, but can you name some concrete ideas for beating Trump and moving more liberal agenda in the Democratic party, or should I just lay back, vote Blue when the times comes and abandon all hope for this country I love? FYI: I have never forgotten what you said when Obama was elected forgive if I misquote: "Liberal people will be disappointed, he is strictly middle of the road and seeks to be inclusive." I am so in your fan club! Thanks for being a voice I can trust.

The Democratic field taken as a whole, from Bernie to Bloomberg, is running on the most progressive platform ever. Or at least since, say, FDR. As for voting the Democratic ticket top to bottom, yes, please do that. (As I advised in my column today.) It's the only option this year. The Republican Party is no more. It's the Trumpist Party now.

Mike Bloomberg makes all the other candidates look like amateurs, in that Bloomberg has it all....... a proven leader of America’s largest and toughest city (New York), a self made billionaire who is a major philanthropist, and the only democratic candidate with the resources to match Republican spending in this years campaign. Yes, he was criticized for “stop ands frisk”, but he left New York in a far better state when he left office. He also has the ability to totally “rattle the President, and will not be intimidated by Donald Trump’s threats and insults. While Trump “wrecks” the America I love, Mike offers hope in this time of deliberate political destruction and dictatorial behavior by our current President.

It looks as if a lot of people agree with you -- in the latest Quinnipiac national poll he's up to 15 percent. And he has 22 percent support among African Americans, behind only Biden's 27 percent. Let's see him on the debate stage. But yes, you have to love the way he gets under the president's very thin skin.

At last week's CNN town-hall Sanders promised that he would do everything he can to support the eventual nominee, acknowledging he'd prefer that nominee to be him, but if it were not to be the case, he would support the eventual nominee. How do we get Sanders to start telling his base NOW, and very strongly, that they need to cut out the childish, self-defeating Bernie or bust mantra??

But... he did say it at the town hall, didn't he? And I've heard him say the same thing in other campaign settings. I don't think it's fair to ask him to pour cold water on his ardent supporters at this point, when arguably he's the front-runner for the nomination. But if he doesn't get it, then yes, he needs to tell his loyal followers to direct their energy into electing the eventual nominee.

I keep wondering if it would be better for our country if media could focus on the impact of Mr. Trump's administration is having on real people in our country - from reduction in water and air safety regulations, plans to reduce support for adults with disabilities, denial of climate crisis, mounting federal debt, etc...rather than making a big deal each day on Mr. Trump's tweets or statements not supported by fact? If people could see how their lives are in jeopardy, might that make a difference?

Not being snarky here, but we do cover all those issues extensively, which is why you know a lot about them. I still don't know, though, how we can not cover what the president of the United States does and says. And what he does and says is generally more vivid and attention-grabbing than a long and thoughtful story about environmental regulations. That's a problem I'm not quite sure how to solve.

Hello. I am one of the discussed and disputed Ohio swing voters. It's probably pure luck but the first time I was old enough to vote was 1984. I've never missed an election (off years too) and I have voted for the presidential winner every time. I can't say that about every office just president. Since people will make their comments: I voted against HRC because I was too worried about going to war in Syria and unless someone can prove me wrong I still think it was the right vote. Trump has turned out to be a small peanut brained idiot. I never thought for a minute he was a good person but never imagined that he so overwhelmingly stupid. For the first time in my life I will vote for whoever the Democrats spit out. I don't know if my winning streak will continue but add my anecdote to your mental rolodex. It's free and that's what it's worth.

I hope you stay on a roll!

I thought the major point for the early states was for whittling down the field yet did anybody drop out after the Iowa caucuses?

Nobody dropped out after Iowa, and it might be that nobody drops out after New Hampshire. This is going to take a while.

Trump says China has given him the confidence that the Coronavirus outbreak will subside in April due to "the heat." Would that be the same China that tried to block Dr. Li Wenliang's warnings about Coronavirus back in November, and since his death from the illness has been frantically removing social media posts commemorating him?

Op-eds written by epidemiologists have made me think I should worry more about the coronavirus more than I have to this point. We simply don't know that much about it at this point. It obviously spreads quite easily. The reported death rate is low, between 2 and 3 percent -- but that was the initial estimate of the death rate of the SARS virus too, and the real death rate turned out to be 17 percent. And no, I don't have a lot of confidence that Chinese have the situation under control or are being fully candid. For now, though, the one thing you should do to keep yourself healthy is get a flu shot. We know with certainty that the flu is deadly, and although this year's vaccine isn't quite as effective as we'd like, it does help.

Hi, Eugene. My middle name is Harold, too, by the way. I found your column today on electability very interesting and enticing. Every Democratic candidate has at least one Achilles heel. I'm interested in your perspective on Senator Amy Klobuchar, who seems poised to either exit with a disappointing finish in NH, or begin to gain traction. However, one story keeps coming up related to her past as a prosecutor not unlike others' past experience with the crime bill or as prosecutors (e.g., Harris). If we were in a parliamentary system, I could see a Sanders/Warren wing aligning with a Buttigieg/Biden/Klobuchar wing for a majority rule. But we're not. We're locked in to a two party system that increasingly disproportionately favors smaller constituencies. I am a climate scientist, so am already feeling somewhat hopeless, but I don't see a path to victory for the Democrats without a literal smoking gun that Trump deploys. Electability seems to be a lot tougher to forecast than the economy. Put on your Zardoz hat and tell me how to restore hope that our next President will represent all Americans, please. And how Americans can get over the idea that an Achilles heel disqualifies a candidate, and thus would lead to low voter turnout except among the Trump supporters.

Everyone will be watching to see how Klobuchar does tonight, because anecdotally, in the flinty-locals-in-diners sense, she seems to be one of this moment's rising stars (along with Bloomberg, who's not running here). That said, I do think Democrats have an opportunity in this election to isolate Trumpism as a minority faction and become a big-tent governing party. And it is notable that every one of the Democratic candidates puts climate change at the top of his or her agenda. Trump is eminently beatable. Let's make it happen.

Mr. Robinson - First, thank you for once again sounding the alarm this morning about how nothing else matters but whether the Democratic nominee can beat Trump. Do you have any idea why most of the coverage of the race thus far, including debate questions, has almost completely ignored what I see as the two most critical questions besides this one: 1. If elected, how do you propose to accomplish anything without also taking control of the Senate? And what will you do as nominee to flip the five states we need? 2. Why isn't there more discussion of the campaign to suppress Democratic (mostly minority) voters in key states AND the fact that Trump has prevented the FEC from having a quorum, making it impossible to take any action to protect the election? Your thoughts, please.

I have no idea why these vital questions have not been asked and re-asked in the debates, but they are indeed central. Democrats need to take Mitch McConnell's gavel away. And voter suppression is happening in plain sight.

I get the majority of Republicans didn't vote for Donald Trump during the primaries, but he still got 44%. It seems like "frontrunner" Bernie Sanders is getting buy with 25% support. I don't want to act as if all the other supporters are interchangeable, but shouldn't that be a bit worrying that majority, and not a 51 to 49 type scenario, are not for the nominee?

The Democratic primaries award convention delegates proportionally. So unless somebody starts winning these contests with majorities, it is possible that no candidate will have the nomination locked up by the time the convention rolls around. Then the delegates will have to make the choice. This is always an unlikely scenario, but it could actually happen this year.

Is it kind of weird that neither Bernie Sanders nor Mike Bloomberg has ever run on a Democratic ticket before?

Not kind of weird. Really weird. But that's where we are.

An overwhelming majority of Americans want to remove Trump, either by impeachment or ballot. We have several fine, vetted leaders in the race. Why won’t the media lay off the wall to wall presidential horserace coverage and focus on GOTV and senate and house (and governor) seats?

A campaign is, by definition, a horserace. I don't know how to cover one without reporting who's pulling ahead and who's pulling behind. But I agree that I'd like to see more coverage of the likely Senate matchups in crucial states.

It sure seems that way from one of the ads that Mikey is running that has Obama all over it. Surely he had to at least get Obama's consent to include him in the ads? Do you have any insight?

Former president Obama has not endorsed anyone in the primary race, and I doubt he was asked for his blessing on the ad you're talking about. That video is in the public domain, and Bloomberg is using it to his advantage.

I've just read your Feb. 10 op-ed, and I agree that beating 45* is THE most important outcome, and that we must somehow arrive at a candidate who can accomplish that. Electability is subjective, and different people have different opinions about who's best. So, how do we achieve some kind of compromise whereby we can agree on who that should be?

Democrats don't have to agree at this point on who's the best candidate. What they absolutely must do is agree to support the eventual nominee with all the energy and money they can muster, regardless of who that nominee is. 

I presume that Sanders will again win the primary in his neighboring state. But so what. I do like some of his message, when I can filter it out from his tiresome angry yelling. Of course, we should have universal health care. Of course, we must address inequality. But I don't think he's the one who can accomplish this. Nor the one who can beat Trump. Bernie is too much about Bernie. I'm getting more interested in the guy in the wings who actually can get things done. Sanders wins again in atypical NH. So what?

I don't think it's my role to endorse or unendorse specific Democratic candidates at this point. I do take your point, though, that a victory in New Hampshire (which he won by 22 points in 2016) won't tell us much about his prospects. Really, starting with Iowa and New Hampshire may have made sense at some point, but it doesn't now.

I have been trying to understand the appeal of Mike Bloomberg's campaign on a national level (he's way up in all the recent national polls). Is the message of the current status of his campaign that money buys votes? Or is his appeal more simple than that, since he seems to be the candidate hitting hardest on the simple message that Trump is the worst President ever? As a follow-up, do you think that there's a portion of the voting public out there who really don't care which democrat wins the nomination, they've already decided NOT to vote for Trump? I guess I'm asking if there isn't a large group of voters out there who couldn't care less about the democratic candidates actual policies, but simply want someone else, anyone else in the White House.

I think the $250 million or so he's spent thus far has a lot to do with his meteoric rise in the polls. While the other candidates were crisscrossing the early states, Bloomberg was carpet-bombing the rest of the nation with television ads and setting up a professional, highly paid, nationwide campaign organization. The Beatles said that money can't buy you love, but apparently they were wrong.

I stay current with events and politics. I read (I don't watch cable news) every day. I am a liberal. I have not watched one second of any of the debates and when the Iowa caucuses blew up I yawned. It matters not to me which Democrat is the nominee. I will pull the lever or mark the circle for whomever is the nominee. I have my favorites of course but sending Trump back to Florida is mission number one. Winning is the only thing that matters.

Keep that thought in mind. And after the nominee is chosen, work to make that nominee president -- and to flip the Senate.

I was against impeachment, but it appears to have backfired more than I ever thought. He literally taunts all involved from the White House, as Senate “leaders” laugh along.. He is reassigning or firing those who testified. His poll numbers have jumped 10%. Impeachment has lost whatever little deterrence power it did have. A lot of people said “How can an impeached President run for re-election?” The answer is by being Trump. The old rules do not apply. Before I was nervous, now I am genuinely frightened.

President Trump's poll numbers have not jumped 10 percent. They did rise somewhat but still have never crossed the 50-percent threshold. The idea of Trump as unbeatable is just nonsense. He's a weak, impeached president and most voters want him to be defeated.

Isn't the lesson of 2016 is traditionally Democratic constituencies don't just show up? I feel like a lot of Mayor Pete's supporters think Republican friendly voters who might vote Democratic are the one and only block that matter while just assuming all the people he has trouble appealing to like African-Americans, Latin Americans, people his own age and younger, will just show up because it's him or Donald Trump, but not like Donald Trump didn't suck in 2016 and however mad you might be at them, they didn't show up for a candidate they weren't totally onboard with either?

In 2016, roughly 800,000 African Americans in Milwaukee, Detroit and Philadelphia did not vote. If 70,000 of them had voted, we'd be covering Hillary Clinton's reelection campaign. The Democratic Party has to mobilize its core supporters to win. It should also be able to win back some of those Obama-Trump voters, but the base is a prerequisite.

Trump is going to pardon both Stone and Flynn, isn't he?

Looks like it. Who's going to stop him?

Didn't that poll have a huge margin of error?

Doing this from memory, so I might be wrong, but I don't think it was a big margin of error at all. I think it was, like, 2.5 percent.

I find myself frustrated with the commercials the Dem candidates are running -- they're either entirely focused on Trump and how terrible he is, or they use long, confusing examples to explain their policy positions. How can we get them to be "short and sweet" and say things like "Donald Trump promised he wouldn't touch Medicare (etc) but his latest budget cuts it". That's how you make people pay attention.

Democrats, in general, need to take a remedial course in "pithy phrases." The GOP is much better at that, and it's not rocket science. And yes, Democrats should hammer on the Republicans' plans to cut the programs like Medicare that so many Americans love and depend on.


That's all for today, folks. Thanks for a lively exchange, as usual, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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