Too Early For The 2020 Ticket? Think Again.

It is hard not to compare Donald Trump’s chilling performance last Friday to Charles Schumer’s tepid one—the Big Lie countered by the half-truth, the worse-than-expected introduced by the better-than-nothing. Trump told the assembled, in effect, that the other political leaders on the stage with him were either ignoring, or profiteering from, middle America’s misery. Foreign governments were either ripping them off or riding for free. This day would be remembered for returning the government to the people. Trump alone was the people’s champion: their allegiance to America, thus to “solidarity,” should be “absolute”; he led, not a party, but “a movement.” America first, America’s new leader fighting (here comes the fascist’s pathos) with “every breath in my body.” Forget information provided by government officials; this was not to be trusted. The press was not to be trusted. The movement had its truth, the champion alone could be trusted.

Schumer, anticipating the message, was reassuring enough, tying together kinds of Americans like Mr. Rogers tying his sneakers: “Whatever our race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, whether we are immigrant or native-born, whether we live with disabilities or do not, in wealth or in poverty, we are all exceptional in our commonly held, yet fierce devotion to our country.” Notice that to live “in wealth or in poverty” meant living in just another demographic, something like sexual orientation, the leveling coming from “fierce” patriotic devotion. But the times are “tumultuous,” Schumer began, and so wealth creation “benefits too few.” For last-breath-in-my-body pathos, Schumer defaulted to a soldier who fell in the Civil War.

Perhaps I am being unkind. Schumer has been an effective Democratic politician and fund-raiser; people I know say he’s good company. But his conspicuousness at the Inauguration underlines something Democrats have not quite digested. Take it from someone who has lived through Menachem Begin, Yitzchak Shamir, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu for two generations: ruthless leaders, carried to power by nationalist populism, cannot be satirized, fact-checked, op-eded, or demonstrated out of office. An opposition political party needs to defeat Trump—defeat his Republican toadies, his phony but dangerous “movement.” This means an opposition to which he can be invidiously compared—an alternative against which every Trump move looks pale, coarse, copycat.

The Democratic party, in other words, must have a clear message that speaks to the anxieties of the traditional Democratic voters it lost. And the message needs a tough, plausible messenger: a leader, or small number of united leaders, who embody—in their persons, their logic, their stories, and their demonstrated courage—integrity that advances what they are saying. If the message is right, and the messenger is authentic, you get a winning charisma. Schumer is not that messenger.

This may seem obvious, but it is worth saying why he is not. Rustbelt voters rejected Hillary Clinton because they resented, one, Wall Street, two, the entertainment industry, three, an Iraq war supported “on a bipartisan basis” (and where my kids go and your kids don’t), four, journalists and political consultants who seem condescendingly manipulative, and, five, the corrupting influence of big money in politics. Now think of Schumer. Does anybody seriously believe people who rejected Clinton think Schumer is more credible? What scorned box does he not check?

Read on at Talking Points Memo