Jennifer Rubin: Politicians and press need to shape up in 2019

Like resolutions to go the gym more frequently, political resolutions won't survive beyond January unless you set achievable aims, enlist others to keep you on track and form new habits. We've got a batch of doable goals for the press, politicians and voters.

The mainstream media should aim to stifle the inclination to repeat President Donald Trump's ludicrous threats ("close the Southern Border"), outrageous accusations and falsehoods without context. "Trump tells troops he gave them a 10 percent raise" only helps Trump broadcast a blatant lie. "Trump lies again to troops about their raise" or "Trump repeats falsehood about troops' raise" are more honest and informative formulations. (We learn what he claimed, that it was false and that it's not the first time.)

Some of the mainstream press has begun to cease live coverage of the increasingly infrequent White House press conferences; the rest should follow suit unless they are equipped to rebut and debunk White House press secretary Sarah Sanders' serial untruths in real time. She's not news, and it's no service to give her a platform to repeat falsehoods. If there is anything newsworthy, portions of the news conference can be aired later. The White House's position on various matters can be obtained by individual outlets without the necessity of a live news conference.

Journalists will have their work cut out for them as a slew of Democrats announce their candidacies for president. They must resist the urge to declare who is a "serious" or "viable" candidate a year before any primary voting begins. Given the experience of 2016, it's essential to spend more time researching and reporting on the candidates' backgrounds and experience, and less on covering content-free rallies. The media would do well to ask candidates knowledge-based questions ("What does the trade deficit with China really mean?") as well as tough, substantive questions.

For example, for Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., they might ask, "Do you regret your stance on drug prosecutions, the death penalty and sentencing reform as California state attorney general?" They shouldn't shy away from character questions ("When and how did you make amends for a bad decision?" "When have you bucked your party to put the country first?"). Finally, they should reject invitations to conceal one candidate's attacks on others with weasel words ("Some Democrats say ..." instead of "Sen. Sanders' followers say ..."). The media should demand all announced candidates' medical and financial records.

Democratic politicians should decline the invitation to race so far to the left they leave voters with the impression they are not worthy of their trust. In Congress, that means the Democratic-majority House should aim not to pass the most extreme legislation for which Democrats can muster a majority but the most reasonable and broadly popular. That's how they put Senate Republicans in a box and demonstrate they, not Republicans, are capable of sound governance.

As for the presidential race, Republicans will be hoping the Democrats race to the left. Some supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., see the "ability to appeal across the breadth of the party" as a fatal flaw. If electability is now a disqualifier, they should resign themselves to four more years of Trump.

For Republicans in Congress, it’s time to return to reality-based politics. That means not accepting or repeating Trump’s lies, not smearing the special counsel, not fanning hysteria about the border and not reflexively defending Trump’s conduct no matter how ethically or legally objectionable. Republicans need to do their own job as the first branch of government — pass legislation with wide popular support — not get permission from Trump for bills they put on the floor. They are not his employees.

Republicans who might challenge Trump for the presidential nomination and donors, activists and voters who might support them need the courage to do more than critique Trump from the sidelines (or their Twitter feed or in the pages of a memoir). The Republican Party has eviscerated the tenets of modern conservatism, so it's up to a new crop of Republican contenders to lay out their updated vision for a center-right party. Whether successful or not in their primary challenges, they'll provide a road map for the party when and if it comes to its senses and abandons Trump.

Finally, voters need to take their responsibility as citizens seriously. If they support unethical, unvetted and unfit candidates, they'll get the government they deserve. If voters exclude information that contradicts their beliefs and choose to marinate in conspiracy theories and social media, they cannot complain when their utterances are correctly identified as loony or just wrong. If they want to be respected by fellow citizens, they have to earn respect by demonstrating they are knowledgeable, civil and decent participants in our democratic debate. And it wouldn't hurt to spend a lot less time on social media and more time reading books - and not the propaganda tracts put out by partisan warriors.

Voters should resist the entreaties to play the victim, look for scapegoats and insist that the solutions to what ails us are “easy.” That’s the talk of subjects in an autocracy, not free citizens in a republic.

Jennifer Rubin | The Washington Post

Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.@JRubinBlogger