Richard Cohen: Democrats need a viable alternative to Trump

April 3, 2019 GMT

My nightmare was not that Donald Trump would be exonerated by special counsel Robert Mueller, but that instead he’d be accused of colluding with the Russians to win the 2016 presidential election. That would set the Democrats on the meandering path to impeachment and, by so doing, vindicate the Trumpian fantasy that the deep state was mounting a coup. There is a better way to get rid of Trump: Beat him soundly for re-election.

The urgent need is to repudiate Trump. The need is for the American people to reverse their decision of November 2016, which raised to the presidency a man of fetid personal and political ethics, who has not a whisper of the truth within him and yet has taken command of the Republican Party so much so that when he sullied the name of the dead John McCain, all but a few Republicans said nothing in reprimand. This was the pornography of silence - utterly without socially redeeming value.


And yet the Democratic Party, a mob of the unready, has set off to alienate the vast middle of the American electorate. It talks of socialism, as if the voters are clamoring for the government to take over General Motors. It suggests breaking up mega-companies such as Amazon, as if its customers feel abused by low prices and shazam-fast delivery. (Note: Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) The Democratic Party has candidates who endorse universal Medicare without acknowledging its cost or what it would do to private insurance. It has candidates who support reparations for the descendants of slaves - a morally correct impracticality and, I would imagine, a hard sell in the sad areas of the country that Trump carried. Try making the argument to an out-of-work coal miner.

The party has candidates such as Beto O’Rourke, a cross between James Dean and Archie Andrews, whose idea of leading is merely to listen. Does he have something to say? If not, why is he running? If the campaign is such a hardship on his kids, he ought to just stay home. O’Rourke would rewrite Marc Antony: Friends, Romans, countrymen, let me listen to you.

The party’s huge potential candidate is Joe Biden. But he is the American equivalent of Brexit: always on the verge, nearly always happening ... just another couple of days. Some family matters to tend to. You understand. Give ’em a hug, Joe. But where’s the fire? Not, it seems, in Biden’s belly.

Where is the candidate who yearns to run right at Trump? Where is the candidate who can refuse the special pleading of some special group and appeal to all Americans? We can get to reparations or socialism or the threat of Amazon or even the dubious worth of the Electoral College some other time. Right now the issue is Trump. He needs to lose. He needs to be repudiated and so do the Republicans who support him.


Robert Dallek begins a section of his superb biography of John F. Kennedy, “An Unfinished Life,” with three quotes. The first is Theodore Roosevelt’s famous one about the “bully pulpit.” Trump uses his to belittle his critics and spread misinformation.

The second quote is Franklin D. Roosevelt’s: “The presidency ... is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.” Who can claim Trump as a moral leader? Not even the infinitely adaptable Sen. Lindsey Graham can say that.

And the third quote is Harry S. Truman’s: “On my desk I have a motto which says ‘The buck stops here.’” With Trump, the buck never stops. He is forever blaming others for his own shortcomings. Taken together, the three quotes encapsulate the obligations and responsibilities of the modern presidency. Trump whiffs all three.

By all means, House Democrats should continue to hold Trump accountable. But some of these investigations seem less than momentous: Does anyone really care if Jared Kushner was entitled to his security clearance? Let him have it. Correction: Let him keep it. At the same time, Attorney General William Barr needs to explain how he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided there was not sufficient evidence to “establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” Clearly, this could have gone the other way.

But history will judge these as details. What matters is that a morally squalid man has won the White House and taken over the Republican Party. He needs to lose, to lose so clearly and affirmatively that lies about Election Day shenanigans and the corrosive evil of the deep state will be asphyxiated and America restored to decency. There’s been collusion, all right — the one between Trump and his enablers. It’s the only one that matters.

Richard Cohen is a syndicated columnist. His email address is cohenr@washpost.com.