OPINION — To answer your post-election questions, we have retained the services of Professor U.R. Wise, the holder of the Warren G. Harding chair in political philosophy at Flyover University.
Q: Aren’t the House Democrats taking a major political risk if they again make Nancy Pelosi speaker? After all, her approval rating is consistently below 30 percent.
A: Pelosi is the great survivor of American politics. Assuming she has the votes, Pelosi will become the first legislator in American history to regain the speaker’s gavel after a gap as long as eight years.
Pelosi’s popularity rating won’t matter until midway through the 2020 campaign. By then, Pelosi should be prepared to soon hand over the gavel to a fresh face. In fact, for the Democrats’ sake, she better be prepared.
In 2019, though, no one can match Pelosi’s skills in holding together the House Democrats, who won’t be able to afford to lose more than about a dozen votes on any issue. That inside-the-chamber, vote-counting game has always been Pelosi’s strong suit. And right now, that matters far more than being a charismatic figure at Capitol Hill press conferences.
Q: Dr. Wise, don’t the congressional Democrats need to have a message other than being anti-Trump and protecting Obamacare?
A: C’mon. Do you have any idea what voters will be talking about in October 2020? If I had that kind of foresight, I’d be running a hedge fund. No one could have predicted that the dominant issues in the run-up to 2018 would be the phony threat from a now-forgotten caravan and sexual harassment charges against a Supreme Court nominee.
Q: So you’re saying that the House Democrats don’t need an agenda to run on in 2020?
A: There will definitely be an agenda, but it won’t be written in strategy sessions on Capitol Hill. The 2020 Democratic nominee will automatically become the face of the party — and the issues that propelled him or her to victory in the primaries will define what Democrats stand for.
Q: I can name at least eight Democratic senators who are thinking about running for president. And there are probably more, plus a handful of House members. What advice would you give them?
A: My scholarly specialty is the later campaigns of Harold Stassen, who ran for president 10 times. And Warren Harding — whose name is on my academic chair, which is a La-Z-Boy recliner — was never taken seriously as a presidential contender until, as legend has it, he was picked as “the best of the second-raters” in a smoke-filled room at Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel in 1920.
So my message to anyone on Capitol Hill with White House fantasies is to go for it in 2020. Not since 1976, the Jimmy Carter year, has a nomination potentially been this wide open. Waiting for 2024 is like waiting for Godot.
Also, I believe that in running against Trump, Washington experience will be a major asset. Americans, even some Republicans, now grasp the dangerous downsides of a presidential apprentice.
Q: Is there any reason for an ambitious Democrat not to run?
A: My first instinct is to say “no.” But there is an enduring lesson that dates back to the 1972 revelation that Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Tom Eagleton had electroshock treatments for depression.
If you have something hidden in your background, even if it has remained invisible during your races back home, it will come out when you come under intense scrutiny from the national press corps. Doubters should just mention the word “plagiarism” to Joe Biden.
Q: Speaking of the press, what do you think about the Trump White House yanking the press credentials of CNN’s Jim Acosta?
A: It is chilling every time Trump comes up with an anti-First Amendment move that was too extreme for Richard Nixon.
As journalists and news organizations try to figure out what to do in the face of this extreme provocation beyond writing letters of protest, I have an idea that I call the “Colonel Robert McCormick Gambit.”
Q: What’s that?
A: McCormick was the rabidly conservative owner of the Chicago Tribune who hated Franklin Roosevelt with an abiding passion. During the 1940 campaign, FDR’s name was rarely mentioned in the pages of the Tribune except in stories like, “Dewey Recalls Money Wasted by Roosevelt.”
While I don’t endorse the Fox News-style slanted journalism of the old-time Tribune, I do see the appeal of a one-day protest by print and TV not to invoke Trump’s name. Ever.
If you have to cover something involving Trump during the protest, call him “the president” without using the five-letter word beginning “T.” As for television, instead of showing pictures of Trump, accompany all presidential stories with anodyne pictures of the White House.
Viewers will know whom you’re talking about. And Trump will hopefully come to understand that the media can withhold coverage rather than continually let him practice the politics of division and distraction.
Q: A final question: How much trouble is the Robert Mueller investigation in?
A: Only under Trump would the firing of Jeff Sessions be frightening rather than gratifying. With Trump apparatchik Matt Whitaker now the acting attorney general, I am fearful that — without congressional intervention — Mueller will be severely constrained or fired.
During the lame-duck session, the retiring Paul Ryan, defeated House Republicans like Mia Love ridiculed by Trump and outgoing senators like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker collectively have the power to protect Mueller. If they fail to act, the last line on their political résumés should read, “Displayed cowardice in the battle to protect the rule of law.”
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