Donald Dossier: Panic Mode | OZY

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because Democrats had an awful week, but remember in the Trump era, nothing lasts.

Democrats often exist in a state of panic, but last week was a fire alarm moment for the segment of the country keen on denying Donald Trump a second term. First came the Iowa caucuses, beset with a technological meltdown supplemented by dirty tricks and conspiracy mongering, enough to wonder whether the UN should send in election monitors. In the end, the biggest popular vote winner — on his way to being the new national front-runner — is a 78-year-old Democratic socialist.

Next came Trump’s State of the Union address, where he touted an economy trucking along strong (Friday brought more good news with a friendly jobs report) and dialed up the game-show-host element of his presidency. From the rostrum, Trump handed out a school choice scholarship to a Black mom and a Presidential Medal of Freedom to cancer-stricken right-wing talker Rush Limbaugh. It was such an effective piece of base-ginning propaganda, combined with targeted outreach to groups that could be helpful in the fall, that Speaker Nancy Pelosi tore up the speech.

Then came the impeachment acquittal we’ve long expected, with the twist of Mitt Romney becoming a #resistance hero by voting to remove Trump from office. No matter, Trump could brandish his “Acquitted!” headlines and add to his enemies list. (Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified in the impeachment inquiry, were canned on Friday, with the verdict safely in hand.) And now the Senate can move on to confirming judges and investigating the Bidens, as the framers intended.

No one thought Ukraine would really take down Trump, but a months-long impeachment process designed to dent his armor seems only to have helped him in the polls, as Gallup showed him hitting a personal-best 49 percent approval. Toss in a chilling Atlantic story about his campaign’s disinformation genius, and it’s enough to send Democrats to the tequila aisle.

Sure, the James Carville tirades appear justified in this moment, particularly when the Democratic candidate who consistently polls the strongest against Trump (Joe Biden) is running on fumes. Asked whether the Democrats have tacked too far left, Carville replied, “They’ve tacked off the damn radar screen.”

But remember: In the Trump era, nothing lasts. Victories and defeats are forgotten quickly, consumed in a news cycle that has the attention span of a fruit fly on cocaine. In between touting economic successes, Trump does things like pick partisan fights at prayer breakfasts. New scandals will continue to churn on. Check out Friday’s Washington Post story about how Trump properties billed taxpayers as much as $650 per night per room for Secret Service agents protecting the president.

Squeezing foreign leaders to help your campaign is one thing, but lining your pocket at U.S. taxpayer expense could prove to be a more powerful general election case for Democrats, along with hitting pocketbook issues like health care, which helped them in 2018. This is why you saw Trump using the State of the Union to vow to always protect patients with preexisting medical conditions, even as Republican-proposed bills aim to remove some of those protections and his own administration is pursuing a lawsuit that would strike down Obamacare — preexisting conditions and all.

The fundamentals surrounding Trump have been stable since the start: His approval rating is somewhere in the 40s, but he’s stronger in the states that matter in the electoral college. Watch Wisconsin and Arizona, not the national polls.

What matters now to panicky Democrats should be settling on a nominee and building a general-election apparatus that can compete with Trump’s extremely well funded and sophisticated juggernaut.

They can start by figuring out how to run a caucus.