The Democrats are perking up. The depression that suffused the party a month ago is diminishing, with a sense of a rejuvenated grass roots.
This psychological revival is being driven by President Trump’s pronouncements, policies, appointments and avalanche of lies, all of which are remarkably divisive. It’s all emboldened Washington Democrats to oppose Trump at every turn, engaged progressive groups around the country and aroused hope for midterm congressional victories in the 2018 election.
Turning anger into political success will require Democrats to figure out how to parlay the passions of the anti-Trump left-wing base without turning off swing voters, including some of the working-class Democrats who abandoned Hillary Clinton last November.
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With the developments of the last month, said Fred Yang, a top Democratic pollster, “We have lots of opportunities.” He added: “There has been an organic outpouring. The challenge now is to sustain it and channel it into voting.” He sees parallels to the tea party activists and Republicans in the years before 2016.
At the same time, he noted, voters want to see accomplishments. “We can’t be seen as too much the oppositional party if Republicans seem to offer reasonable proposals,” Yang said. “So far they have not.”
So far, Democrats have gotten political benefits by opposing Trump nominees like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. These are unimpressive choices with little appeal to either the left or middle. Some Republican senators who voted to confirm DeVos — she won 51 to 50 when Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie vote — were embarrassed by her performance at her confirmation hearing.
Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch poses a tougher choice for Democrats. He is a qualified judicial conservative and his nomination ultimately will prevail, so opponents might be best served by voting against him without making his confirmation a futile party loyalty test.
On policy matters, it depends on what exactly congressional Republicans and the White House propose. The more they veer to the right, the easier it will be for Democrats to fight them without alienating the political middle.
But Democrats could easily go too far. Some are entertaining the possibility of filibustering appropriations bills to block Trump spending plans — in essence a threat to shut down the federal government with 41 Senate votes. But shutdowns are a tactic Republicans used in 1995 and 2013, provoking political backlashes of a kind that Democrats would be wise to avoid.
As impressive as the grassroots outpouring has been the past month, some Republicans note that it has been centered in urban and suburban areas, places where Democrats tend to dominate already. To make inroads in next year’s elections, the party has to do better in small towns and rural counties.
Nevertheless, midterm victories usually go to the side that is more motivated and turns out its core supporters.
That gives Democrats, in their worst political shape since the 1920s, a ray of optimism.
Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist.
©2017 Bloomberg L.P.