Froma Harrop: Democrats need to be the third party

Froma Harrop

Widespread displeasure with Donald Trump and his party bodes well for Democrats in November. They have a good chance of retaking the House and a decent one of winning a Senate majority. But to get there, they must be smart. And being smart includes attracting Republicans repelled by Trump.

There’s not going to be a third party any time soon, as much as many centrists crave one. But Democrats can serve as a haven for independents and appalled Republicans wanting options other than the moral wreckage that’s become the GOP. At least in 2018.

For patriotic conservatives (and others), defending American institutions and norms now takes precedence over winning on this or that policy initiative. This is a time of crisis. In a stroke of good luck or hard work, Democrats have enlisted six former federal prosecutors, candidates schooled in the rule of law, to run for House seats.

The crude populism practiced by Trump is all over the ideological map, though in his case, it’s mainly words.

Trump hollers sweet nothings to the working class while in practice shoveling the nation’s wealth to the wealthiest few. The working people’s losses will continue to mount, starting with the health care security that Trump promised to preserve but is now helping kill. This was bait and switch, big-time.

Tax cuts and spending that explode deficits are not conservative, and real conservatives know it. Trump world’s piggish conduct, meanwhile, repels traditionalists. The resistance from right-of-what-used-to-be-center makes never-Trump Republicans the most interesting and principled voices in today’s politics.

Trump does seem to be retaining high approval among party members in general, but there are fewer behind them. Republican-leaning independents are up for grabs. Many who used to call themselves Republican leaners have dropped the “Republican” altogether and now simply identify as independents.

Some Democratic politicians err in thinking that moving decisively left to win over the so-called base is the way to go. It’s not. Democrats are better off appealing to growing masses of independent-minded voters — certainly if they want the party to win outside its regional strongholds.

In any case, they should be mindful that the Bernie-Hillary divide was largely manufactured. Candidate Bernie Sanders certainly sounded more radical than Hillary Clinton, but on the issues, they weren’t far apart at all.

Trump loudly pushed that myth. And now we learn that Russians were also secretly sowing discord among liberals. They bought pro-Bernie, anti-Hillary ads on Facebook even after the Sanders campaign ended.

Then they ran ads promoting Green Party candidate Jill Stein — she who praised Trump’s pro-Russia platform. “Trust me,” one Russian-sponsored ad for Stein read. “It’s not a wasted vote. … The only way to take our country back is to stop voting for the corporations and banks that own us.”

It’s hard to imagine any lefty not understanding the necessity of defeating Trump, but undoubtedly some were sucked into the con. (Or they weren’t worried about their health care.)

Voters of all persuasions can agree on the evils of rampant corruption, chaotic foreign policy, environmental degradation and cultural debasement. But Democrats have to develop a coherent stance on immigration that says, “Our determination to protect the ‘dreamers’ does not mean we don’t want immigration laws enforced going forward.” Sanders, by the way, is quite moderate on this issue, understanding that lower-skilled American workers need protection from unfair competition.

The country desperately needs a massive rejection of what Trump and his Republican enablers have wrought.

Whether voting for Democrats in November is a one-time deal for disaffected Republicans remains to be seen. But they should do it for all of us, and Democrats must help them.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop.

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