Scenting blood, some of the Democrats dreaming of success in the midterm congressional elections are beginning to talk sense. The season of insult and abuse of the president is winding to a close, not because of regrets but the party grown-ups have concluded that making asses of themselves doesn’t work.
The sophomore practitioners of politics have tried everything and nothing has worked. Donald Trump’s presidency, like it or not, has survived and is showing signs of new life. His deal with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to raise the debt limit, odious as it is but necessary nonetheless, and the suggestions of compromise on DACA because a compromise is all that’s available, reflect a certain unlikely success.
Mr. Trump emerges from a rough week as the only Republican looking, if not good, at least presentable. Rasmussen, among the most reliable of the pollsters, finds an unexpected bump in presidential approval, from 40 to 45 percent. Forty-five percent is not great, but when you’ve been down for as long as the president has, anything else looks like up.
The campaign of insult and vilification started early and has never, until now, shown signs of relenting. Hostile rioters greeted his inauguration. “It was preemptive righteousness from the start,” observes Conrad Black in National Review (which was never a friendly voice for Trump the candidate and has not warmed much for Trump the president).
“Until now, a new charge has arisen as each previous one faded. It was preemptive righteousness from the start: hostile rioters near the inaugural parade; witless film and rock stars speaking of blowing up the White House; groups of miscellaneously angry women demonstrators dressed up as vaginas, demonstrating against the president for unstated reasons; an adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar,’ in which a Trump look-alike was murdered; a mock-up of Trump’s severed head proudly held up by one of Hollywood’s loopier comics; even poor, tired, desperately predictable Stephen Colbert, who began by begging Mr. Trump to run so he could be pulverized by the voters, almost at the weary end of his lame Trump gags.
“This past week, the tide ran out. Vanity Fair, on balance the most nauseating publication in America, and The New York Times and The Washington Post panned Melania Trump’s footwear when she got onto the airplane to go to Texas: high heels, which she changed to running shoes before she deplaned.”
Even a well-turned ankle in both heel and running shoe made little impression on these critics, obsessed with the shoe rather than the ankle. Some wiser Democratic heads, however, are persuaded that voters will expect more than sophomoric rants and unhinged rages next year. It’s tedious now. Voters might be open to persuasion to abandon the Republicans, but not by hysteria. Neither man nor woman, hinged or not, lives on hysteria alone.
Nancy Pelosi, entertaining realistic hope for becoming the speaker of the House again in the wake of the collapse of Republican leadership in Congress, finally got around to speaking the truth, unpopular in Democratic precincts, about the left-wing mob at Charlottesville and then at Berkeley.
“Our democracy has no room for inciting violence or endangering the public, no matter the ideology of those who commit such acts,” she said. “The violent actions of people calling themselves Antifa in Berkeley deserve unequivocal condemnation, and the perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted.
“In California, as across our great nation, we have deep reverence for the Constitutional right to peaceful dissent and free speech We must never fight hate with hate, and to remember the values of peace, openness and justice that represent the best of America.”
Such rhetoric sounds like conservative boilerplate, with phrases like “our great nation” and “deep reverence for Constitution rights,” but not what anyone expects to hear from a congresswoman from San Francisco. Dianne Feinstein, a former mayor of San Francisco, urged patience with President Trump and is learning the hard way that words like “moderation” and “patience” are dirty words in the city that regards itself as “Baghdad by the Bay” (whatever than means), where dirty words are the municipal lingua franca.
“It wasn’t the proper tone or tenor,” she was told by the president pro-tem of the state Senate. “We don’t owe Trump patience. We owe Californians resistance.”
Perhaps, but senior Democrats like Mesdames Pelosi and Feinstein understand that what works in California is not likely to work in the places where something has to work if their party has a chance to exploit opportunity next year. Insulting the president might be a lot of fun in Baghdad, the real one or the fantasy Baghdad, but there are limits to its effectiveness elsewhere. Those limits are at hand.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.