As Donald Trump’s inauguration draws near, Democrats fear they remain woefully unprepared to fight the new president’s agenda.My immediate reaction is: When did Democrats ever have a "unified message"? And haven't "the ranks of prominent party surrogates" always been inadequately small? Even when they held the White House, Democrats had no star-maker machinery, beyond the partly self-generated stardom of Obama. And Democrats never worked the media refs to demand parity on TV and cable news, which are still wired for Republicans.
The party loses its standard-bearer once President Barack Obama leaves office, and the Democratic National Committee won’t get a permanent chairman and staff until March, two months into the presidency. That Democratic power vacuum has raised concerns about the party's ability to provide a united message -- or even to stand up a centralized rapid response operation -- for the president's first 100 days in office.
Their worst nightmare is that Trump, ever the showman, will define his opening act with little unified resistance.
“It's a very serious concern. I just went on TV twice today on Fox and MSNBC on the Cabinet appointments and I winged it,” said Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor and 2008 presidential candidate. “You need something right now. Trump every day is doing something outrageous. What do we do? Criticize everything he does? Hold back a bit? I know we need to develop an economic message but that's long term. We need something now. Most of the Democrats I talk to are down, and they're asking who's in charge.”
... the question of message coordination is an immediate one for those who are faced with spouting the party line with the Trump train barreling down the tracks.
In the words of one Democrat who remains a frequent television commentator, but who has noticed the ranks of prominent party surrogates shrinking as the number of talking points and centralized messaging memos wane, “People are afraid to go out there."
If Democrats think things are worse now, that means they're really bad.
But aren't Democrats winning on Russia? Boyd Brown, a South Carolina Democrat who used to be a member of the DNC, says: "We’ve got him on this Russia deal, but we’ll find a way to mess it up."
Maybe, maybe not. The glimmer of hope here is Trump himself. As incoming presidents go, he's strikingly unpopular, according to Pew:
As Trump prepares to take office, 41% say they approve of the job he has done explaining his plans and policies for the future of the American people, while 55% say they disapprove of the job Trump has done.At this point, Trump is his own worst eneny -- which is to say that he's a worse enemy to himself than the opposition party is. Boyd Brown can talk about Trump's PR success with the Carrier deal, but the Russia revelations have completely swamped that story, which was already tarnished after Trump attacked local union leader Chuck Jones and Jones didn't back down, even in the face of threats from pro-Trumpers. I expected day after day of Trump's victory tour, but there have been only a couple of days of coverage. (Maybe Trump's ADHD kicked in and the tour was forgotten.) The Russia story is much bigger and is likely to linger much longer -- and Trump courted more bad publicity by leaking the name of Russia pal Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state appointee just as the story was unfolding, rather than waiting a few days.
That 41% approval rating is lower than President Barack Obama's 72% in December 2008 and President George W. Bush's 50% in January 2001 -- in the wake of a disputed election. It's also lower than President Bill Clinton's 62% in January 1993 and President George H.W. Bush's 65% in March 1989....
Trump's Cabinet picks have also received low marks, with just 40% of Americans surveyed saying they approve compared to 51% who disapprove of his selections so far.
I don't want to fall into the trap of assuming that Trump is self-destructing -- a lot of us believed that much of the way through the campaign -- but he's never been across-the-board popular, and he's not becoming more so, the way most newly elected presidents do. This gives Democrats a little time. But not much, because even unpopular presidents can get things done. Democrats need a leader who understands that they weren't in great shape even before the leadership vacuum existed. However, any leader at all would help.