Jennifer Rubin: Democrats would love for 2020 to be like 2018

FILE - In this Friday, March 8, 2019 file photo, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks at an Economic Club of Washington luncheon gathering in Washington. The day after Democrats swept to power, Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi stood before the cameras and declared impeachment was “off the table.” That was November 2006. More than a decade later, Pelosi, again facing a restive left flank that’s now ready to confront President Donald Trump, says she’s “not for impeachment.” It’s a remarkably consistent stance from Pelosi who must lead the House through another moment when a vocal part of the electorate wants to end a presidency. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Democrats out on the trail, as opposed to those in cable-news studios, have not been talking much about the Russia investigation. When they have talked about Russia, they have expressed alarm that President Donald Trump hadn't recognized the unequivocal evidence of Russian interference and had not devised a plan to prevent it from happening in the future. The reason for their reticence is two-fold.

First, the Democrats won in 2018 by not talking about impeachment or Trump's bad behavior; they ran on Republicans betraying the working and middle classes. That was Speaker Nancy Pelosi's, D-Calif., idea, and it worked like a charm. Don't mess with success, Democrats figure.

Second, voters ask all kinds of good questions - some about foreign policy, but not about the Russia inquiry per se. The obsession of the media and of the politicians on the subject does not appear to be shared among ordinary voters, in large part because most people already made up their mind as to whether Trump is intellectually and emotionally unfit for office. Moreover, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Democrat or Democratic-leaning independent showing up to hear candidates 11 months before the first votes are cast who needs to be convinced that Trump is beyond redemption. The choice for these voters isn’t Trump or a Democrat, but rather a choice among Democrats.

Now there are exceptions. Former representative Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, opined recently on Trump's guilt regarding obstruction of justice. However, virtually all other contenders from the most experienced to the least understands that they're running to beat Trump in 2020, not to have him dragged off stage in 2019.

However, this does not mean Democratic candidates and voters aren't thinking about the president. To the contrary, they are desperate to kick him out, but the method they have surmised is to find someone who can best articulate Trump's failings - of which his handling of Russia is a small part - in a way they think can attract a winning majority.

Think about it: Is it more effective to say that in 2016 Trump invited the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton's emails or to say that since 2017 he's been enriching himself, snatching kids from their parents arms, shoveling tax breaks to the rich and ignoring the existential crisis of our time, climate change. The media and political class remain fixated on what Trump did in 2016; voters and candidates want to talk about what he's done since.

Weirdly, in contrast to Democrats, Trump and his minions are fixated on the past, intent on blasting the media and Democrats (which they might want to tamp down on until they see what Mueller actually found). Trump is all about vengeance and score-settling over the investigation into what he did in 2016. That might get Sean Hannity and his glassy-eyed viewers hyped, but so long as the president is not talking about taxes, health care, education, climate change and trade, he is abandoning the playing field on topics that voters care most about.

It would be ironic in the extreme if Mueller’s report left Trump fixated on personal vindication while freeing Democrats to talk about bread-and-butter issues. I suppose it’s a metaphor of sorts; for Trump it’s always about him, not the country.

Jennifer Rubin | The Washington Post

Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.