The Donald Trump Administration hasn’t even started, and the President-elect is already unpopular. Only 42 percent of those polled in this “honeymoon” period approve of Trump. Voters were split (46-45 percent) on their approval or disapproval of his transition process.
Contrast that with Barack Obama's popularity before he took office, when 83 percent of those polled approved of his transition process. (Less than half of voters approve of Trump’s three key picks so far: Mike Pence, Steve Bannon, and Reince Priebus.)
Trump’s diehard followers will undoubtedly seek out fake news from faux sources, including his own Twitter feed, to cling to the illusion that he's fighting for them for as long as possible. But even they may be forced to face facts when Congressional Republicans target Medicare and Social Security, while Trump’s billionaire cabinet despoils the environment, attacks public schools, cuts cushy deals for Big Pharma, and gives tax breaks to millionaires and corporations.
Eventually, most Americans will realize that their lives aren't getting any better – and are, in fact, getting worse. Where will they turn when that happens?
Democrats like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo are already positioning themselves to lead the coming anti-Trump backlash. In a speech, a Facebook post, and a New York Daily News op-ed, Cuomo condemned racism and bigotry and listed some laudable actions the state will be taking against hate.
These are welcome moves. Cuomo even showed glimmers of his late father Mario’s eloquence in announcing them. But Cuomo hasn't placed the blame for the recent surge in hatred where it belongs: on Donald Trump’s demagoguery. Instead he has waffled on Trump, who has been a generous donor to Cuomo’s campaigns in years past.
And while Cuomo touched on economic issues, that part of his speech was notably lacking in specifics. But then, Cuomo’s own economic record is mixed. He signed a statewide minimum wage increase but fought Mayor Bill De Blasio’s attempts to raise it in New York City, and aided big-money interests pushing privately-run charter schools there.
Cuomo recently hired one of Chris Christie's top aides, a former communications advisor to Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Palin, and George W. Bush, to sharpen his message. That suggests that he is aiming for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, perhaps with a “bipartisan” theme.
Equivocation and oscillation are characteristic, not only of Cuomo, but of an entire class of well-financed Democrats for whom ambiguity has become a political way of life.
Sen. Cory Booker is also being touted as a contender for the 2020 nomination. Booker famously attacked Barack Obama in 2012 for criticizing Bain Capital, which was founded by Obama opponent Mitt Romney and generously contributed to Booker’s mayoral run. Booker described Obama’s criticisms of the predatory investment firm as “nauseating” and added, “Stop attacking private equity.”
Securities & investment firms gave $1.88 million to Booker’s 2014 Senate campaign, and the financial industry was also generous toward his Newark mayoral campaign. Other major Booker sources include law firms and real estate.
Like Cuomo, Booker has taken some progressive positions. That’s a welcome development. But it will be hard for Democrats who are so closely associated with financial elites to lead a movement against Trump and his fellow Republicans.
As incoming Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer will be a major voice in the Democrats’ anti-Trump front. Schumer is backing Rep. Keith Ellison’s bid to lead the Democratic National Committee, a smart move that could reinvigorate the party’s image and agenda. That shows that Schumer understands the shifting political ground. But Schumer is also closely associated with finance. His top four industry sources of campaign contributions are securities & investment, law, real estate, and insurance.
As more Americans become disillusioned with Trump, a potentially transformative moment is almost certain to appear. But voters who are dissatisfied with both the status quo and Trump’s phony populism are likely to seek equally transformative politicians, not a return to the political styles and power relationships of earlier eras. Failing that, they’re likely to become alienated from the political process altogether.
An anti-Trump movement may appear in the streets first, as a spontaneous response to Republican incompetence and plutocratic greed. That's where its real leaders may be found. But wherever it arises, Democrats who want to be part of that movement must seek out leaders like Bernie Sanders – authentic and unambiguous voices who will lay out what’s wrong with the current system and call for genuine economic and democratic reform.
The 2016 election showed that the electorate will be harsh in its judgment of political waffling or big-money associations. Party leaders should think twice before backing politicians with those vulnerabilities. Figures like Sanders, Ellison, and Elizabeth Warren embody both the ideas and the integrity Democrats will need to mobilize their base and win back lost voters.