Coronavirus has hit like an earthquake; its aftershocks will hit American politics equally hard. The aftermath will expose an altered landscape where public perception of issues has changed markedly. Nowhere will this be truer than with impeachment and illegal immigration, where Democrats will see the ground has shifted beneath them.
Four months ago, no one had heard of coronavirus; now we hear of little else. There seems no end in sight. As often in disasters, time seems to standstill. Of course, coronavirus will end, time will have moved significantly and things will not be where they were.
The same is true in politics. How President Donald Trump is perceived in responding to coronavirus certainly will shape his overall standing. Even on particular issues, public perception will be affected. The two most likely to undergo early and large alterations were two of the most divisive — impeachment and illegal immigration. Both will change to Democrats’ detriment.
Clearly if Trump performs on coronavirus, America will be reminded that had Democrats had their way, he would not have remained in office to combat it. There is no little danger there for Democrats. However their impeachment liability in a post-coronavirus world goes much further.
Coming in such close proximity, the contrast between impeachment and coronavirus is stark. The coronavirus crisis makes impeachment look trivial. As America wages a life and death struggle, it is hard to imagine that Washington was playing cat and mouse politics just two months ago —roughly two weeks after coronavirus arrived in the U.S.
It is a contrast between political theater and war, between playing politics and saving lives and livelihoods. It further elevates the difficulty President Trump faced confronting the crisis: He first had to win over a seemingly implacable opposition before he could begin to battle coronavirus.
It also contrasts the center of his Democrat opposition, Congress — with its inherent disunity — to the unified executive branch. A quick comparison between their approval ratings (Trump’s regularly running at twice Congress’) shows the advantage such a contrast gives Trump.
Impeachment will quickly be an exercise that many Democrats would like to undo. As proof, consider how few are still touting it now, despite Democrats raising the possibility of a second impeachment immediately after the first’s conclusion. Next, try to remember on what charges Trump was impeached.
An even greater Democrat regret will be their position on illegal immigration. If coronavirus has fundamentally changed anything in politics, it is the argument over illegal immigration. Prior, the facts simply favored Trump and Republicans’ position. Now, health, safety, and the imperative to know who (and their medical condition) are entering the country make opposition to illegal immigration unassailable.
Now, entrants are being globally screened, and often still are being quarantined — even citizens and legal immigrants. Country of departure is an expected question. No one considers allowing people entry without such precautions. And no one is calling such mandatory precautions prejudiced or racist any longer.
To the public’s heightened concern for law and order, and health and safety, Democrats offer a legacy of laxity. Rendered mute by their left, they were essentially reduced to having no policy at all. They could neither be against illegal immigration, nor for it. Inarticulate on comprehensive policy, but favoring a piecemeal approach of sanctuary cities, abolishing ICE, and open borders. Those ad hoc positions now look ludicrous at best, and foolhardy to most.
There are no “do-overs” in politics, but Democrats will wish there were. Before coronavirus, they felt favorably defined by their positions. Now, these will leave them in disfavor.
Beyond out of step, their positions oppose where the public now stands. Impeachment was divisive; now America’s demand is for unity. Illegal immigration was always wrongfully risky; now America is rightfully risk-averse.
Earthquakes leave fissures. Coronavirus will be seen to have done the same. On impeachment and illegal immigration, they will have left Democrats separated from most Americans.
J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.