Liberals could force Democrats to cede the law and order issue to President Trump. This would give him a devastating additional punch to go with his growing economic one. Effectively, it would give him peace and prosperity to use against Democrats in 2020.
American presidents generally only lose re-election when the economy is poor. In the last century only three elected presidents have done so — Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush — and all three were associated with economic troubles. The reason prosperity so overwhelms peace is because America has the luxury of taking domestic peace for granted.
In 1968’s exception, the rule is proved. The economy was growing well but, with civil unrest domestically and Vietnam escalating drastically, Democrats forfeited 1964’s presidential landslide. First, President Lyndon Johnson withdrew from the race; then, Vice President Hubert Humphrey went on to lose to Richard Nixon.
With Republicans’ combined control of Congress and the presidency, and Mr. Trump’s vigorous enforcement of laws rendered dormant under President Obama, the left has pushed back hard. Sanctuary cities and calls for ICE’s abolition exceed simply flouting the law. Increasing public confrontations with Trump officials only add to the image of liberals abandoning law and order.
While the left’s confrontation has been with Mr. Trump, their real pressure has been on elected Democrats. Dependent on liberal support, Democratic officials have little choice but try and appease them.
While persistent pressure has built, it will increase further and faster following November’s midterms. Then the focus turns from the preliminaries to the main event. With myriad midterm elections, the liberals’ impact is diffused. Local races allow for candidates tailored to fit districts and avoid the pressure. Further, because these are legislative contests, Americans’ focus on them is vastly different than on the presidency.
America’s presidential contests are a simultaneity of local elections — all with the same candidates. Considering the left’s rapidly growing influence, the Democrats’ nominee is likely to be liberal. The 2020 presidential election therefore will not be tailored.
Moreover, a presidential contest’s content is vastly different, because a president’s role is vastly different. While Congress makes the law as the nation’s legislature, the president embodies it as the nation’s chief executive. Implementing and enforcing the law, law and order’s responsibility therefore falls to the president.
Combined with this constitutional placement of the law and order function is the enhanced importance America now places in the office. History books propound the theory of three co-equal branches, but their pages expound on the presidency being first among equals.
At the same time this heightened office brings law and order to the fore, the left are pressing Democrats to make undoing laws prominent issues. That pressure only increases post-midterms.
Should Democrats fail to retake Congress, expect liberal frustration to add force to their pressure to ignore laws they deem unacceptable.
Should Democrats win either or both bodies of Congress, expect liberal pressure to be greater still. And their frustration may ultimately be even more so. Like conservatives before them, they will encounter the reality that congressional change does not necessarily equal policy changes.
Such frustration ultimately pushed congressional Republicans into perhaps their long struggle’s biggest blunder with President Bill Clinton: Impeachment.
Regardless of their case’s facts, Americans — despite misgivings about the man — defended his office. Republicans’ attack was perceived as one on America’s political system.
Virtually since his inauguration, the left has called for Mr. Trump’s removal. For many liberals today, this is the real reason for their midterm ardor. However, despite the dynamic being the same, the results could be worse for today’s Democrats.
Today’s liberal base is far smaller than the conservative one, thus Democrats would unite a larger faction against their effort than Republicans did two decades ago.
Even avoiding the most pronounced attempt to undo Mr. Trump’s presidency, Democrats find themselves increasingly pushed by their liberal base toward actions that could give Mr. Trump the law and order issue for his re-election. This would be the height of irony for a president liberals see in the opposite light. Even more so would be the outcome: Giving him favorable contrasts on peace, as well as prosperity, could make Mr. Trump virtually impossible to beat.
• J.T. Young served in the Office of Management and Budget and at the Treasury Department.