The Real Reason Democrats Keep Pursuing Self-Defeating Strategies Like Russiagate and Ukraine
They’re between a rock and a hard place of their own making
While Trump is thoroughly disliked by about forty percent of the country, the Democrats, as led by centrists Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), have not only done very little to build their own popularity, they’ve actually been pursuing strategies that erode their popularity.
Ever since their disastrous 2016 loss, the Democratic leadership has spent most of its energy pursuing conspiracy theories — first about Russia, and now about Ukraine. We’ll get to the specifics of each of these theories, but suffice it to say that both are unpopular, both are unproven, and both will, on balance, help Trump and Republicans in the 2020 elections.
Worse still, the Democrats are now impeaching Trump over one of them, the Ukraine dispute. Even if the charges in this conspiracy theory are true — and they haven’t been proven — here’s the thing: no one cares.
Everyday independent voters — the people who will decide the 2020 elections — don’t care about Ukraine. What they do care about are things that affect their everyday lives: healthcare, the economy, personal debt, the environment, equal rights, immigration, and income inequality.
So why are Democrats pursuing these conspiracy theories? Why are they taking the giant step to impeach? They know Trump will be acquitted in the Senate, as Bill Clinton was in 1999, and that this drive to impeach will result in nothing but a long-running, extensively-watched, widely-discussed movie that in the end will feature Donald Trump winning. This in turn will create a stronger, vindicated candidate in November who can decry a witch hunt (with some validity), ignore attacks on his real flaws and real corruption, and pretend to have integrity in ways he currently cannot.
The question is, why would the Democrats want to lose again?
After losing the 2016 election — a race that was eminently, ridiculously winnable— the Democratic leadership willfully chose not to learn the obvious lessons from the loss. What was clear to anyone willing to look was that Hillary Clinton lost because she ran a poor campaign based on unpopular policies.
The obvious path after that election would have been to quickly learn its lessons and thereafter to run elections better and on more popular policies. The phenomenal and sudden popularity of the Bernie Sanders campaign — which the DNC had to cynically kneecap in order to ensure Clinton won the nomination — spelled out exactly what policies are popular. Sanders literally repeated them ad nauseam at every campaign stop, month after month. If they didn’t want to listen to Sanders, they could have simply talked to the working class people and independent voters who supported Bernie — or Trump. People want universal healthcare, livable wages, tuition-free public colleges, student loan relief, fewer foreign wars, a path to home ownership, a clean environment, action on climate change, stricter regulation and taxation of giant corporations, and reining in Wall Street speculation. To address their steady losses all across the country over the past decade, the Democrats wouldn’t even have to go after all of these policies at once. They could focus on just one or two, if they really fought for them.
The problem is, they can’t fight for these policies.
They can’t fight for these policies because they don’t support them.
They don’t support them for the same reason they couldn’t allow Sanders a fair shot at the nomination.
The corporate centrists who head the DNC and currently lead the party are simply too conservative economically to support progressive policies. Worse, they can’t be persuaded or convinced by progressives because they’ve been thoroughly corrupted throughout their careers by funding from the giant corporations who oppose these policies: Wall Street banks, pharmaceutical corporations, health insurance corporations, military industrial corporations, oil and gas corporations, and other corporations who are raking in record profits because of low-wage overseas labor, minimal environmental standards, and weak unions.
Thus the Democratic party, as led by the current centrist DNC, has no authentic way to increase its own popularity. They cannot push for policies that would make people’s lives better because doing so would risk their funding from giant corporations. And raising money the revolutionary way Bernie does — via direct contributions from actual people — scares the centrist DNC brass as it provides a genuine alternative to their entire business model and threatens their hold on the reins of the party.
With no authentic way to increase their popularity, and unable to change, the DNC is left with only one option: to appear better than the alternative. This is why they spend so much time attacking Trump, digging up dirt, and decrying any and all of Trump’s peccadilloes, big and small, legitimate and invented. Doing this doesn’t bring genuine popularity, but it’s risk-free for Democrats:
- If they dig up legitimate criminal activity, great, they can use it to demonstrate that they’re “obviously better than the Republicans,”
- If they find nothing, they can leave Trump in office, treat him as a bogeyman, depict him as a horrible racist and fascist to increase their fundraising, and continue digging until they find something legitimate.
And this is the loop they’re in. Aim for outcome #1, but settle for outcome #2. Over and over. Their party grows less and less popular and the people of the country turn off to them and to politics as a whole, and this in turn makes voters listen to anyone who has any kind of message, even if he’s a corrupt, dishonest, bullying former game show host. The DNC could easily defeat Trump if they were to fight for genuine policy that would improve people’s lives.
Instead, they’ve fought for something else entirely for the past four years. Let’s review.
Self-Defeating Strategy #1: Russia
Rather than push the popular policy initiatives that Bernie Sanders rode to within a whisker of the Democratic nomination in 2016, the DNC leadership gave the country three years of red-baiting, rumors, and conspiracy theories about Russia. As we know from the emails that were leaked during that election, the DNC brass openly collaborates on stories with the corporate media, and this Russiagate story was no exception. Before the ballots were even counted in 2016, the media began to report on likely election interference by Russia.
MSNBC jumped on board first and hardest, and Rachel Maddow, in particular, spent years pushing these theories strongly at her once-loyal Democratic audience. Others quickly followed, including reporters with DNC connections at the New York Times, Washington Post, and NPR. Democratic media backer Rob Glaser went so far as to give Mother Jones magazine an earmarked $250,000 grant to uncover ties between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
At first, the allegation against Trump was full-on collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign — that Trump was actually receiving funds from Russia, and that he and Putin, hand-in-hand, had conspired to steal the election.
But no one could prove any of that, hard as they might try. The evidence just wasn’t there.
(By the way I hate that I have to write an article like this, partly defending Donald Trump. I don’t like Trump, I don’t support him, I didn’t vote for him, so don’t shoot the messenger here. This truth just needs to be said: The DNC’s foolish strategies are strengthening Trump and making a second term likely.)
Next, the story became “unwitting” assistance, “hacking,” and “meddling” — that Russians helped Trump even if no one in the Trump campaign actually knew or participated in the conspiracy. Evidence for that, however, was thin on the ground as well. Central players CrowdStrike and Christopher Steele turned out to be DNC contractors. In all, the investigation came up with about fifty thousand dollars in electioneering expenditures and social media manipulation that investigators could reliably pin on “interfering” Russian organizations during the 2016 election cycle.
This is a laughably small amount. In an election where Clinton raised over $1 billion, we’re talking about not even one hundredth of one percent of what was spent on the election. If some person or organization could steal a national US election with less than $100,000 (spent on tweets and facebook ads no less), why would candidates spend months raising hundreds of millions?
I’m not opposed to conspiracy theories, by the way. Conspiracies do happen all the time, and theorizing is simply coming up with ideas. Not to be a conspiracy theorist in 2020 is not to be paying attention. I have an open mind here, corruption is endemic, and Donald Trump is no saint.
But there’s just no juice in this lemon. Even if we say that some Russians were able to somehow persuade some voters with such small sums of money, this conspiracy theory runs into two huge problems:
- Foreign countries have a legitimate interest in our elections, and we cannot prevent this. When one candidate, Clinton, is giving speeches hinting at starting a war with Russia, and the other candidate, Trump, is giving speeches about being less interventionist, you’re going to see Russians interested in the candidate who sounds less militant. People don’t want war — especially not against the United States and it’s unbelievably fearsome military. You saw this in China too in 2016 — Chinese people preferred Trump as he wasn’t sounding as militant about China as did Clinton. As an aside here, it is worth noting that one of Trump’s strategies was indeed to campaign to Hillary’s left on several key issues, including military intervention, and that this worked for him and is a cautionary tale for running a longtime hawk like Biden against Trump in 2020.
- Second, for the precise reason listed above, we interfere in the elections of other countries all the time. We have an interest in the outcome of other countries’ elections just as they have an interest in ours. Yes, we “interfere,” and yes, we “meddle” frequently. In fact, everywhere, all the time. To some degree, our intelligence and state departments have played some role in fixing elections for candidates in a major election in every foreign country repeatedly. Sometimes it’s a bit of propaganda, like what Russia allegedly did here; other times it has been full-on bloody coups to install a preferred candidate. We do these things to protect and advance the interests of our military, our major corporations, and our wealthiest citizens.
No One Believes It Anyway
So if after three years of investigations by Democrat-leaning corporate media and government intelligence agencies, there still is no evidence of a massive conspiracy to steal the election, and if the facts that have been uncovered have a (relatively) benign explanation, why does the Democratic leadership still believe this wild theory — that Russia stole the 2016 election?
They don’t. If you look closely, you’ll see that they all stopped believing it a long time ago, if they ever believed it all. Nancy Pelosi said in both June and November of 2017 that she wasn’t going to pursue impeachment of Trump because “he’s just not that important.”
This is an incredible if accidental confession. Think about it. Imagine you’re Nancy Pelosi, and on the one hand the party you lead is swearing up and down in the media that the president is a full-on Russian asset on the Kremlin payroll, that our government is headed by a double-agent. If true, this would indicate treasonous crimes of the highest order and necessitate the sternest, swiftest impeachment, removal, and imprisonment; if true, no congressperson, least of all the Speaker of the House, would be able to ignore the fact that a Russian plant was, for instance, in command of our military.
And yet on the other hand you, Nancy Pelosi, say repeatedly throughout the year that impeachment isn’t a path that the party you lead should take.
It gets more obvious. Time and again, rather than rein in his capabilities, the DNC has handed Trump expanded spying powers and increased his military budget. In fact in November 2019, with the Democrats controlling the House, they not only gave Trump all the military funding and power he asked for — to the tune of a record $738 billion — they gave him more than he asked for. They did still more than that: They helped him add a whole new branch to the military: the Space Force. If they really feared, deep down in their hearts, that he was a Russian asset working at the behest of Putin, would Pelosi and Schumer and Durbin and the rest of them give him the money and power to invade by land, bomb by air, and patrol by outer space exactly wherever Putin told him to?
No, it’s foolish on the face of it.
The truth is clear to anyone with an open mind: Russiagate was three years of political theater to distract voters from the failures and corruption of the DNC itself. Rather than own up to running a horrible losing campaign in 2016, rather than acknowledge that they elevated the candidates they thought Hillary Clinton could beat, rather than admit that they rigged the primary and then still lost, rather than confess that their failed economic policies led the party into the wilderness of a 30-year low in state and federal legislatures, rather than actually support and pursue policies popular with the American people, the Democratic Party leadership chose political theater.
They’ve been forced to make this choice because they’re funded by corporate donors who will have it no other way. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Self-Defeating Strategy #2: Ukraine
The DNC quietly stopped with Russiagate in 2019 having found no smoking-gun evidence of collusion, let alone evidence of fully stealing the election. So the Democrat-leaning media forgot about it and moved on. And suddenly it was time for the next scandal, Ukraine. The suddenness of the switch was a bit reminiscent of the ill-fated buildup to the Iraq War, where for months the corporate media on both sides of the aisle insisted and screamed and yelled that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and then one day just quietly stopped with it all, acknowledging without apology, there were no weapons of mass destruction, there never were, we all lied about it, but don’t blame us, we were lied to as well, and we didn’t have time to do any research or verify anything, so just forget about it, trust us again, it’s time to move on to this next really important thing...
So, on to Ukraine. A “whistle blower” in the White House declares there had been a “quid pro quo” on a phone call with Ukraine’s leaders where someone on the Trump side hinted to someone on the Ukraine side that there would be no military aid forthcoming unless Ukraine investigated Joe Biden and why his son had gotten a plum position he wasn’t qualified for.
Except that the military aid was delivered. And there wasn’t an investigation of Biden. And there is no solid evidence that a “quid pro quo” was ever requested. Also, it turns out that the “whistle-blower” was actually a CIA operative placed in the White House.
Newsflash for journalists: If a guy works for the CIA, he is not a whistle-blower, he is a spy. Blowing the whistle is to report malfeasance or crimes by your own employer. So unless this guy is blowing the whistle on the CIA for spying on Americans or other illegal activities (think Edward Snowden), he’s just a spy doing what a spy does. He was reporting what he found by spying, which is not blowing a whistle on wrongdoing, it’s…spying.
Newsflash for progressives: the CIA and the FBI are not your friends. The CIA hires and trains professional spies and liars and places them in powerful positions in media and government both here and around the world. The FBI works covertly to defeat progressives, feminists, civil rights activists, and socialists via such fine operations as COINTELPRO; it is the organization that, for instance, spied on Martin Luther King, Jr. and tried to convince him to commit suicide. Robert Mueller, former head of the FBI, in 2003 was one of the primary liars misleading the nation about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Aaron Maté, a clear-eyed independent journalist at the Nation and Grey Zone explains the deeper details and difficulties of the Ukraine phone call scandal in this excellent interview:
As Maté mentions, it’s interesting to notice parallels between the Russiagate goose chase and the Ukrainegate fiasco:
- The same intelligence officials are pushing both. Brennan, Comey, Clapper, Schiff, Nadler. They’re all on the scene again with Ukrainegate. Whereas not so long ago Democrats were suspicious of the FBI and CIA, particularly with these organizations’ history and their reputation for deception, Democrats today suddenly seem to immediately believe — and defend! — the spy agencies.
- Neither alleged scandal directly affects the lives of everyday people or their struggles to pay rent, buy food, fix the car, get a job, feed the kids, pay debts. A good description of these scandals ultimate concern might be: “Elites jostling for power.”
- In fact, both are specifically concerned with concealing the DNC’s own corruption. With Russiagate, the DNC was determined to “shoot the messenger” and distract people from the actual content of the leaked emails that indicated the DNC had elevated Trump, placed moles in the Sanders campaign, leaked debate questions to Hillary Clinton, and colluded with media organizations to run negative stories about Bernie Sanders. With Ukrainegate, the DNC appears determined to prevent Joe Biden from having to face accusations that his son received a million-dollar salary for a job he wasn’t qualified for. Indeed, it seems the only time anyone in the DNC cares enough to launch an investigation is when it’s about defending themselves from disparagement.
- Finally, both Russiagate and Ukrainegate are arcane, difficult-to-follow alleged conspiracies fraught with uncertainty and hearsay. Why not impeach Trump on something obvious? Say, on bombing Syria without congressional approval? Or on assisting Saudi Arabia with the horrendous ongoing genocide in Yemen? Or on withdrawing from critical international treaties? Or on enriching himself by hosting Saudi officials in his hotels in Washington, DC? Or for this horrific assassination of a foreign leader — Qassem Soleimani — which is an unprovoked act of war?
This isn’t to say we know for certain Trump did not insinuate that the military aid wouldn’t be coming, or not coming as quickly, if Ukraine didn’t come out with some type of investigation of Biden and his son’s role in the Ukrainian energy company. Chances are, honestly, that this did happen, given the state of corruption in our government and theirs. And that’s not a good thing. Nevertheless, most independent-minded Americans don’t see this as sufficient grounds for removing a democratically-elected president, particularly in a year when he’s already up for reelection.
Self-Defeating Strategy #3: Impeachment
Now, after three years of bombshells that weren’t and walls closing in that didn’t, after refusing to impeach Trump on numerous far more compelling issues, and with no smoking-gun evidence, Democrats in the House have impeached Trump over the Ukraine phone call.
Russiagate was never a strong bet, and now they’re doubling down on a weaker prospect, knowing there’s a 99% chance that Trump will be acquitted in the Senate. Indeed, by any sane prognostication, the DNC will be playing a long, long game of poker that they already know they will lose. They stacked the deck against themselves, so why do they keep playing hand after hand? Impeachment is not popular and, as mentioned above, will only strengthen Trump for 2020.
Do the Democrats want to lose?
The answer is: They don’t really care. Remember, the DNC leadership cannot legitimately increase their own popularity, as advancing popular ideas would endanger their business model. They know their actual policy ideas are outdated, corrupt, and unpopular, so they need us all to look somewhere, anywhere else. Russia, Ukraine, Impeachment, something. They can’t actually do good things for people so they know their only real path to staying in power is appearing better than the alternative. Thus, investigating Trump’s corruption and finding nothing is an acceptable outcome since investigating Trump’s corruption and finding something is always a real possibility.
But make no mistake, impeachment is a losing strategy for Democrats as a whole:
- Joe Biden will be further damaged. Republicans control the Senate and will run this trial as they see fit. Senators will have dozens of opportunities to destroy Biden’s reputation. Every time the word Ukraine comes up, they’ll get in a dig about Biden and his son Hunter and the plum position Hunter had for no reason, making $80,000 a month doing nothing. They will use every occasion Ukraine comes up to remind voters and the media of Biden’s lesser-known corruption. They may even subpoena both Bidens to publicly tarnish their image. The Senators will continuously ask things like, “What was it that Trump wanted investigated about the Bidens? Why was it such a big deal?” Joe Biden is a relatively weak candidate as it is — weaker than Hillary Clinton was — and is quite poor at explaining his son’s position. Ultimately, the trial will hobble Biden and strengthen Trump, and the DNC will be kicking off the 2020 election year by boosting their opponent and subjecting their leading candidate to continuous denunciation.
- Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren will be weakened. The timing, whether by design or by accident, will be such that the entire Senate will be tied up for the months of January and February in impeachment hearings — every week, Monday-Saturday. This just so happens to be the first two months of the Democratic Primary, and thus Senators (including Sanders and Warren, the second and third leading candidates) won’t be able to campaign in person in early states Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Incidentally this will help corporate centrist Pete Buttigieg and neoliberal Michael Bloomberg, as they will not have to be in Washington DC during the trial.
- Donald Trump will be vindicated. Worst of all, the trial will end in a widely-covered exoneration of Trump. Throughout the process the hearings will be used by Republicans to theatrically call out the whole process as a political sham and an abuse of congressional power by Democrats. Trump’s approval ratings are rising and reached record highs in December, particularly in key battleground states, and this is likely to continue as the trial proceeds.
The true lunacy of the DNC’s impeachment path is evident when you realize that Biden will come out of this Senate trial more damaged than Trump. Pelosi has mysteriously hesitated thus far to “transmit the articles” to the Senate, in effect holding up the trial. Perhaps she’s realized the folly of this path and is considering cancelling the trial, which would be one of the smartest things she’s done politically in years. Stopping now would improve all Democrats’ chances in November. But don’t count on her here. She’s between a rock and a hard place and has likely already weighed her limited options.
There are some benefits to impeachment for the DNC leadership.
- Sanders and Warren can’t campaign. This was mentioned above as a drawback, but since Pelosi and Schumer and even Obama have made their disdain and fear of Bernie Sanders’ policies known, keeping him in DC could be viewed internally by the DNC brass as an advantage. Thus, while the trial will weaken their top three candidates for the nomination, it might have defensive value to a DNC leadership fearful of a progressive takeover of “their” party.
- Impeachment is a Really Big Important Thing. The trial will appear important, historic, and significant on camera and in the newspapers, and it will give centrist Democrats something weighty to do when they can’t actually pursue progressive popular policy or fight Trump on his more horrid policies (increased domestic spying, slashing foodstamp programs, withdrawing from essential international treaties, etc.). Since the DNC leadership and their sponsoring corporations actually support most of Trump’s policies, the trial will be useful in shielding the DNC from the “do-nothing” tag without actually forcing them to do anything at all.
Can They Still Win?
The Democratic party, under its current centrist DNC leadership, has been pursuing self-defeating strategies for three years because they don’t see an alternative that wouldn’t threaten their own existence. They’re stuck between a rock — an electorate who wants genuine progressive policies and now sees neoliberalism as a sham — and a hard place — corporate backers who pay their bills and line their pockets and who want neoliberalism to continue.
Given this predicament, can the DNC compete with Trump and win the race for the White House?
Probably not. The DNC will presumably continue in 2020 to resist change, insist on corporate funding, reject progressive policies, and nominate another corporate candidate like Biden, who will be stranded as a centrist in political no-man’s land, as Hillary was, without any popular policy proposals.
Biden will have to follow the DNC playbook and attack Trump on Russiagate and Ukrainegate, which as we’ve seen are not even believable conspiracy theories at this point to anyone but party diehards. This strategy will play right into Trump’s hands, enabling him to attack and mock Biden for his own corruption, and it will leave Biden nothing to offer independent voters in swing states, even as he will still convince the shrinking but loyal Democratic base. Trump will be able to run circles around Biden — as he did with Hillary — to the right on social issues and to the left on military intervention and trade. And that’s likely a winning combination in 2020. Trump will point to fewer wars started in his first term than his predecessor (unless of course this Iran insanity spins out of control) and to generally good jobs reports and unemployment numbers (which are misleading about the general state of things for working people, but Biden won’t be able to offer anything materially better).
If on the other hand the DNC takes a deep breath, looks around, and embraces the growing demands among independent voters for progressive policies and for ending the corruption that has come from funding the party via corporate contributions, it could be a very different election. Based on polling, enthusiasm, and fundraising, Bernie Sanders is the candidate best positioned to defeat Trump, as he will solidly hold down the left progressive position on jobs, trade, healthcare, education, war, and the rest, and Trump will only be able to attack Sanders from the right. It will be a fascinating election, and given Bernie’s popularity with independent voters, people of color, and young voters in swing states, Bernie would be the favorite.
But to get there, the DNC has to allow Sanders to win the nomination this time, and that is a tall ask. The simple truth is that Pelosi and Schumer and the Clintons and the rest of the DNC leadership have benefited tremendously throughout this century from this current albeit losing version of the party. They’ve amassed not just significant power, but tremendous personal wealth and enormous prestige. Why take a risk to win when losing is working so well?