Nancy Pelosi
Credit: DVIDSHUB/Flickr

I don’t know if Napoleon Bonaparte actually said it or, if he did, what the proper translation might be, but it’s become a maxim that it’s unwise to interfere with your enemy when they’re in the process of making a mistake. In a lot of ways, I think this wisdom explains why we don’t hear more from Democratic Party leaders. I saw that Nancy Pelosi chirped up yesterday and made a comment:

But that didn’t really amount to anything more than an observation that the Republicans are making mistakes.

In fairness, the GOP is such a non-stop mess that it doesn’t seem like there is ever a good time for the Democrats to step in and demand that people pay attention to them. Interjecting themselves in this Shit Show just invites people to hold them responsible for it in some small measure, either as obstructionists or as simply unhelpful. As long as they’re not suffering legislative defeats, their base doesn’t have a whole lot to complain about, and as long as they get out of the way, independents will focus on the Republican personalities who are flailing about and sticking knives in each other.

There’s a cost to be being so invisible, though. For one thing, they seem irrelevant even if they’re not. For another, even when they present ideas, they don’t follow up on them enough to have much impact. You can’t rebrand if no one is paying attention to you.

I keep seeing quotes about the fact that no Republicans have reached out to the Democrats over the August recess to discuss the agenda for September. That’s kind of amazing considering that the Republican leadership and the White House will need Democratic votes to raise the debt ceiling. But maybe the Dems are playing a little too pat with their winning hands. If nothing else, they’re letting a delusional mindset persist among Republican leadership and the rank-and-file. Getting the GOP to understand their true position is probably going to be a process that requires them to walk slowly through the stages of denial.

The job of doing this is going to fall mainly on Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. When John Boehner walked through this minefield, it cost him his job. Still, the Democrats might at least articulate a set of demands to reset the Overton Window a bit and introduce a little rational thinking.

Schumer recently suggested that Trump should disband his Election Integrity Commission, but that could become a demand or condition of support for Democratic votes on must-pass bills. They can demand that the budget reconciliation process for tax reform be abandoned, too. I can imagine many possibilities where the Democrats can insist that they will withhold their support if they don’t get concessions.

It’s true that this risks making them look like more a part of the problem. But they ought to flex their muscles a little more and make themselves known.

It’s possible to take Napoleon’s maxim too far.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at