Donald Trump is an inveterate trash talker, and I’m old-fashioned enough to consider this a bad thing in a president-elect. But even assuming that Trump keeps talking trash as president (a fair assumption, I think), he will not bear primary responsibility for this latest manifestation of civic decline.
Primary responsibility for “normalizing” trash talk from the White House falls instead on President Obama.
Obama’s latest display consists of his claim that he could have defeated Donald Trump and won a third term. Maybe yes — Obama is more popular than Hillary Clinton and a better campaigner — maybe no — Americans probably aren’t inclined, absent exigent circumstances, to grant a third term to their president.
Regardless of the merits, it was unseemly of Obama to boast he would have won a third term. And Obama’s claim wasn’t just a shot at Trump. It was, as Sam Stein of the Huffington Post says, an attack on Hillary.
Indeed, the shot at Clinton was really the point of Obama’s boast. He knows that he has left the Democratic Party in terrible shape and that some are holding him accountable for what Stein calls, with some exaggeration, the party’s destruction. Obama is desperate to shift the blame.
But blaming Hillary won’t cut it. Losing a presidential race in which the standard bearer carries the popular vote by more than 2 percentage points does not signal the possible ruin of a political party.
This is especially true when the party has held the White House for eight years. History shows that it’s difficult for a party to win three straight presidential elections. The Democrats’ failure to accomplish this in 2016 is comparable to their failures, in a very close elections, to do it in 2000 and 1968, and to the GOP’s failure in 1960, another extremely tight contest.
No one suggested that the Dems were a train wreck in 2000 or that the Republicans were in 1960. If this suggestion was mooted in 1968, it was because the Vietnam War had so bitterly divided the party, not because Richard Nixon edged past Hubert Humphrey.
The reason for hand-wringing about the future of the Democrats now is not Hillary Clinton’s narrow defeat. Rather, it is the loss during Obama’s presidency of 12 Senate seats (from 60 to 48) and 63 House seats; of 12 governors; and of around 1,000 seats in state legislatures. Republicans now control 68 of 99 state legislative bodies and 33 state houses.
The GOP didn’t fare nearly this badly during the presidency of George W. Bush.
Obama can’t blame Hillary Clinton for the devastating losses Democrats have sustained in non-presidential elections since he won the White House. The blame rests largely with our trash talking president and his efforts, which eventually became relentless, to ram leftist policies down the throat of a centrist nation.
With a record like this, it takes a lot of nerve to indulge in political trash talking. Nerve is the one thing Obama has never lacked.
It’s reasonable to expect the Democrats to bounce back. How quickly depends partly on Donald Trump’s performance as president and partly on forces more or less beyond anyone’s control.
But until the Dems rally, Obama must take most of the blame for their exile from power at all levels. Thereafter, he must take it for the time spent in the wilderness.