Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

It would be interesting to know whether David Ignatius stands by his latest column in which he warns Democrats that Trump is on a roll.

The agonizing fact for Democrats this summer is that President Trump appears to be gaining ground on domestic and foreign policy, while his potential challengers are quarreling and mostly spinning their wheels.

Trump is taunting allies and defying Congress — and seemingly getting away with it. He isn’t just rewriting the political rulebook, he’s tossing it aside.

Ignatius probably wrote that before the president backed off of his insistence that the citizenship question be added to the census and his labor secretary resigned over the lenient plea agreement he negotiated with a pedophile. But to make his point, Ignatius points to the the fact that Trump’s approval rating increased recently (even though 53 percent of the public still disapproves), the economy is doing all right, his appalling immigration policies don’t seem to be hurting him politically, and he is “getting away” with his disruptive foreign policy.

My question for Ignatius would be: “Given that Trump’s approval rating has always jumped around from the upper 30’s to the low 40’s, what has changed that leads you to believe that the president is all of the sudden ‘on a roll?’” It is pretty much the same roll he’s been on for the past three years.

But here’s the sentence from Ignatius that really grabbed my attention.

[T]he painful fact is that the Democrats haven’t figured out a way to stop his forward momentum, even when they believe it’s taking the country over a cliff.

That is the kind of thing that very serious people say while other very serious people nod their heads at its wisdom. But it raises some questions that we would all do well to ponder. First of all, while I question whether there is any new “forward momentum” to Trump’s presidency, the fact that he’s been taking the country over a cliff is indisputable.

To the extent that Ignatius is talking about congressional Democrats, their most powerful tool to stop Trump is to remove him from office via impeachment. The party is having a heated debate about that, with cogent arguments being put forward on both sides. But the bottom line is that, even if the House voted out articles of impeachment, that wouldn’t stop Trump because Senate Republicans wouldn’t convict him.

There is a way in which that statement by Ignatius is reminiscent of the “green lanternism” we saw during Obama’s presidency. Much of the criticism at the time assumed he had some kind of superpower to defeat McConnell’s obstructionism. But in keeping with the proponents of that argument, Ignatius provides no specifics about what Democrats could do to stop Trump.

What those kinds of arguments fail to take into account is that we live in a representative democracy in which the constitution allocates powers to elected officials in both the presidency and Congress. The foundation of that structure was built on the idea that no institution would have sole power. When the people elected Donald Trump (albeit via the Electoral College and not the popular vote), they gave him a tremendous amount of power that, other than through impeachment and removal, is impossible to completely thwart for four years.

Pelosi and the House have done a respectable job of stopping Trump from implementing the most egregious parts of his legislative agenda, and his executive orders remain tied up in the courts. McConnell is busy getting Senate confirmation for Trump’s judicial nominees because the use of the filibuster has been eliminated, but the president isn’t even bothering to submit cabinet officials for approval and has filled the ranks with “acting” secretaries. Finally, presidents are given very wide latitude to enact foreign policy.

Given that Ignatius ends his column by talking about Democratic presidential candidates and suggests that “they’re skewing further left as candidates compete for the party’s base,” he pivots to who can beat Trump in 2020. That is a question that most Democratic voters are asking themselves right now as they consider the candidates. Over the next year, we’ll learn how they answered it.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.