by D.J. McGuire
“It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder.” – Joseph Fouché, Chief of Police for Napoleon (though often misattributed to Talleyrand)
For Democrats, the case against Donald Trump is so personal that we risk losing or not gaining support that would otherwise naturally be ours. There is, sadly, no other plausible explanation for the party’s overemphasis on finding legal grounds to remove him from office to the detriment of building a policy case against his affinity for Vladimir Putin.
This is not to say the legal issue stirred up by accusations of collusion between Trump for President and the Kremlin should be ignored, but I think my new-ish party can – and indeed, must – walk and chew gum at the same time. We need to ensure voters – especially Republican voters – understand the inherent danger Putin’s regime poses to American interests, to the democratic world as a whole, and to human rights. Otherwise, there is a great risk that Trump will survive, be re-elected, and do incalculable damage to the matters above.
Of course, we can begin by noting how Russia’s dezinformatsiya campaign badly damaged American political culture. However, we have to make the case in a clear and unassailable manner. References to “hacking the election” should be deleted for all talking points. If Wikileaks is to be discussed, focus on how the Russian press (i.e., Putin’s mouthpieces) deliberately misinterpreted the data dumps of Assange and Co. Items like Sputnik (the online news agency, not the old satellite) transforming a Newsweek reporter into Sidney Blumenthal should get top billing.
However, it needs to go beyond that. Vladimir Putin didn’t start to become a problem for America when he decided he preferred Trump to Clinton. I would argue that the poisoning of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was when Putin truly tipped his hand, but one can look to the invasion of Georgia (the nation just north of Turkey, not the state just north of Florida), the seizure of Crimea, or the continued support for both the mullahcracy of Iran and the Kimist regime in North Korea for evidence of the Russian neo-czar’s anti-democratic ambitions.
All of those pale in comparison now to Putin’s continued support of the vicious Ba’athist regime in Syria – known locally as “Daesh’s best recruiter”. Putin has repeatedly labelled any and all opponents of the Assad regime “terrorists,” but he has done more than that. He has used Syria, and American weakness in acting there, as a springboard to challenge American power, American interests, and even the notion of universal human rights. This is no ally of the United States.
While all of the above should be enough to convince any Democrat to oppose a Trump-Putin alliance as bad for the country, highlighting these issues would help the party as well.
Without the aforementioned policy angle, nearly all of the Democrats’ hopes for political gain effectively rely on Vladimir Putin being stupid enough to include a loose cannon like Trump in his plans for the dezinformatsiya effort. I happen to think Putin is dumber than conventional wisdom holds, but he’s not that dumb.
So while Trump’s clumsy attempts to thwart the investigation into his campaign may enter “high crimes and misdemeanors” territory, his actions during the campaign almost certainly don’t. More to the point, by making clear Trump’s policy flaw, Democrats can show voters that they must send Trump packing in 2020 for making such a dangerous error in foreign affairs – impeachment or no impeachment.
The damage Trump’s alliance with Putin can and will do to America and democracy is far too important to be limited only to the legal realm. This is worse than a crime; it’s a mistake.
D.J. McGuire is the conservative Democrat on More Perfect Union podcast – and sometimes feels like he is the lone conservative Democrat in the country.