Last night was probably a pivot, not on policy but on messaging, just as Acosta at Labor and McMaster at the National Security Council are pivots. It’s still all rightwing policy but the approach is likely to be more traditional nice words covering over the attacks on human decency.
Bannon and Trump came in with a shock-and-awe strategy to try to overwhelm political opponents with so many attacks, so many battles, that they could fragment the opposition, blur messaging and drive everything through.
It largely failed ― and in some ways dramatically.
And that’s because #theResistance is more than a hashtag. It was the millions who showed up the day after the Inauguration, the organizing and mass protests at airports, the ongoing marches, and the townhall meetings which have made Congressional reps run scared. It was large-scale phone calls to Democratic representatives demanding confrontation, not cooperation and appeasement.
By failure, let’s be clear I don’t mean we did or will stop most of the bad things that will happen in the coming years. The GOP controls the levers of power and while we can blunt the worst, their donor class will get large chunks of what they want.
But politically, Trump reinforced and basically made permanent the opposition that will challenge him every step of the way. The goal had been to so overwhelm the country that moderate Democrats would come out in outright support of his initiatives and more mainstream leaders like Schumer would be afraid of not cooperating in some form.
And his slide in popular support even since the Inauguration reflects a failure to expand his base, a miscalculation that disruptive chaos would not turn the country against the protesters but instead would hurt Trump’s own standing.
The largest defeat for Trump is on health care. Shock-and-awe was supposed to make that a quick fait accompli with a number of years to recover from the fallout and patch things over with other policies for the victims. This is where the protests have scored their largest victory with Republicans defecting and fragmenting, not the Democrats, as the contradictions and complexity (who knew?) of health care policy come to the fore― which means delay and actual debate on health care policy which is deadly for Trump and the GOP. The more and longer the debate on health care, the more various people, especially swing voters willing to listen to independent media sources, will realize they are likely victims of Trump policy.
So Trump is pivoting. Insane tweets will not end, but it will no doubt be balanced by more careful statements from most of the Cabinet members, more of a good-cop bad cop routine to keep his own base as mobilized as possible while reaching out to other constituencies.
The policy won’t change substantially but #theResistance probably can’t count on Trump to make organizing quite as easy as he has been making it. Longer-term strategy has to get sharper ― and not just strategy aimed at 2018 and even 2020 ― but the longer-term fights to build expanded power in traditional areas of progressive strength while building up the funding to put additional organizers in Trump-oriented areas That kind of ongoing one-on-one meetings and outreach and organzing is the only way to bypass the rightwing media bubble and actually change hearts and minds for building the broadest alliances for economic and social justice needed over time.
The airport protests weren’t “spontaneous”; they were built on a layer of long-term organizing strategies and permanent staffed organzations and we need to convert some of the loose networks into broader, deeper, more democratically accountable organizations that can do that long-term deep organizing and strategy.
That is the challenge for the coming period, even as we all continue the successful #resistance that forced the current pivot.