A fair scoring of the Trump presidency’s first year would have to hand 2017 to Democrats. The opposition party exploited the Trump-led GOP’s mistakes and excesses and translated them into victories both on Capitol Hill and at polling places around the country. But that was then and this is now. Democrats remain married to tactics that have not served them so well in the New Year. Democrats are not winning this moment. They don’t know it yet.
Not even the most optimistic Republican could have anticipated the reaction that markets and large employers have had to the first significant overhaul of the tax code in over 30 years. Since that bill was signed into law on December 19, firm after firm has announced its intention to share the windfall with its employees in the form of raises, bonuses, and 401(k) hikes. Manufacturers ranging from Chrysler to Apple are repatriating capital and factories they had parked overseas. Even the minimum wage is on the rise for several major employers, including Walmart and financial institutions like Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, and Bank of New York Mellon Corp.
Democrats had argued that the Republican tax code reform plan would benefit only the wealthy and, despite the strong economy and tight labor market, corporations were unlikely to reinvest their new capital. The Democratic message has not adapted along with changing conditions. They feel obliged to undermine the good news surrounding tax code reform, but they’ve gone about it in a spectacularly tone-deaf fashion.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the $1,000 bonuses that a variety of firms had provided their employees in the wake of tax code reform amount to “crumbs” and “pathetic” gifts designed to purchase cheap loyalty. Rather than invest in their employees, she added, these firms should “invest in infrastructure.” Pelosi later called these bonuses and wage hikes “cute,” but ultimately insulting to the American worker because they are not commensurate with the advantage corporate tax reform provides employers. “Some of them are getting raises, and the rest are getting crumbs,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed. When “you spread $1,000 over the course of the year,” former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz pondered, “I’m not sure that $1,000 (which is taxed, taxable) goes very for almost anyone.”
If the Democratic Party is trying to convince voters that the GOP is detached from the concerns of average Americans, demonstrating you have no idea how far $1,000 goes is a bad way to go about it. For a family making the median household income (as of September of last year), $1,000 is more than 20 percent of their monthly income.
Democrats might hope to trade on lingering antipathy toward the tax bill they successfully fomented in the run-up to its passage, but the narrative that worked in December is going to start yielding diminishing returns. The headlines speak for themselves; even just the anticipatory effects of this tax bill are not being enjoyed exclusively by the wealthy. The longer Democrats ask voters to believe them over their lying eyes, the more they will find that they are only preaching to the converted.
Similarly, the GOP has boxed the Democratic Party in on the issue of immigration reform.
On Thursday night, the White House revealed the outlines of what amounts to a skinny immigration reform package. The one-page memo outlined a plan to provide a pathway to citizenship not just for the roughly 700,000 beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which expires in March, but some 1.8 million DACA-eligible immigrants—approximately half the estimated population of immigrants who were taken into the U.S. as minors. In exchange, the White House requested $25 billion for security at both the Mexican and Canadian borders. Furthermore, the White House requested curbs on family migration, limiting the extended family that these formerly illegal immigrants could bring with them into the U.S.
This is a reasonable initial offer. The administration, having just secured an unambiguous victory over Democrats following a failed legislative gambit that resulted in a brief government shutdown, could have pressed their luck. Instead, the White House barely budged off its initial request for border security funding. Meanwhile, the administration made a big step toward resolving the status of nearly two million illegal immigrants, which has enraged some in the president’s immigration-hawk base. In fact, the White House reportedly had a difficult time trying to sell immigration restrictionists on the plan. “Lots of them hate the proposal,” Axios reporter Jonathan Swan related. Mark Krikorian, the executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies, summed up his fellow hawks’ thoughts succinctly: “Time to start burning your #MAGA hats.”
But for all the administration’s overtures toward Democrats, the responses have been hyperbolic and inflexible. Senator Dick Durbin said Trump had taken DREAMers “hostage” and was on a “crusade to tear families apart.” “The White House is using Dreamers to mask their underlying xenophobic, isolationist, and un-American policies,” wrote Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Pelosi called Trump’s proposed restrictions on extended family unification represent “an unmistakable campaign to make America white again,” which aligned with sentiments in the liberal grassroots. A statement by the activist organization United We Dream called Trump’s immigration proposal “a white supremacist ransom note.”
This means Democrats are again handing the keys over to the party’s activist base just days after the party’s activists drove them into a ditch. Democrats spent months insisting that they wanted a “clean” bill to restore long-term funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). When they got it, they voted against it—sacrificing their claims on CHIP in the process. Now, the White House has made a good faith attempt to find common ground on DACA, only to be called racist for the effort. This is a remarkably short-sighted and parochial strategy.
By insisting that $1,000 constitute “crumbs” and giving citizenship to nearly 2 million illegal residents is racist, Democrats are flirting with utter incoherence. These claims might enliven their base, but they risk turning off every other sentient voter capable of an objective thought. Moreover, unreasonable polemics have a habit of activating the opposing side’s partisans at a time when reliable Republican voters have been staying away from the polls. The risks of the Democratic Party’s present course seem to outweigh the rewards.