Issues & Insights

Democrats’ Scorched-Earth Tactics Should Stop at the Virus’ Edge. (But Won’t)

Public domain reproduction of Albert Goodwin's 'Apocalypse'

‘Politics,” insisted the late, great Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, “stops at the water’s edge.”

Scorched-earth tactics, counters today’s less-than-loyal opposition, never end – even, or rather especially, in the face of a global pandemic.

Back in 1948, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was well positioned to give “Give ‘em Hell” Harry Truman some hell of his own.

Truman’s political popularity that election year made The Donald look like Adele-meets-Dale Carnegie. Down double digits in the polls to deadly dull Thomas Dewey. His Democrats splintering. Party leaders conspiring to dump him (a wounded, humiliated Truman even offered to demote himself to being Dwight Eisenhower’s running mate).

So yo – why not deliver a national-security coup de grâce to the commander in chief? One on whose watch the “Iron Curtain” had clanked into place over Eastern Europe – and one caught in a pincer between Progressive Party Soviet surrenderists and a contingent of continuing isolationists opposing the Marshall Plan?

Why not? Because Vandenberg was the bigger man – eyeing a bigger threat to his country. “I am more than ever convinced,” averred he, “that communism is on the march on a worldwide scale which only America can stop.”

The Michigander led quiet GOP leadership discussions with Truman’s team on an internationalist security framework. And his Vandenberg Resolution – overwhelmingly passed in an election year while the senator was actually still a presidential candidate in his own right – opened the way for the formation of NATO.

Contrast today’s Democratic political Lilliputians. In January – before the Centers for Disease Control even confirmed the coronavirus’ human-to-human transmissibility – high-profile presidential candidates were already at it hammer-and-tongs. Sleepy Joe Biden inspired public confidence and national unity by calling Donald Trump “the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health challenge.” Ms. Lizzie Warren tweeted that the administration’s response was a “mess.”

Within three days of CDC’s declaration, Trump had created a task force, declared a public-health emergency, and banned China travel. Nevertheless, the very day of the ban, Biden zinged The Donald’s “record of hysteria and xenophobia.”

By Feb. 4, Trump ordered the CDC to step up testing – an effort, it’s universally acknowledged, the agency fumbled. Yet some three weeks later – on the date the CDC announced the first U.S. coronavirus death, and when the agency was still calling the risk “low” – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer slammed Trump’s “towering and dangerous incompetence.” And soon after, charged the administration with a “glaring omission” on testing.

Meanwhile, his House counterpart, the ever-opportunistic Nancy Pelosi, termed the president’s efforts “completely inadequate to the scale of this emergency” and said her majority faction would come up with its own funding package.

We all know what that “funding package” was about – blowing out spending while forging novel mandates, entitlements and voting scams. Since then, Ms. Pelosi has explored vast new budgetary galaxies with her $3 trillion HEROES fantasy and now, is battling alongside Schumer to sustain unemployment payments wildly higher than actual earnings.

Moreover, the nation’s third-ranking leader has advanced ever-more outrageous rhetoric: “As the president fiddles, people are dying …” “delay, denial, death …” “the president gets an F …” and most offensive of all: “The Trump Virus.”

Incredibly, politicization was even more intense at the state and local level. Parents opening playgrounds? Entrepreneurs their businesses? Enemies of the state.

Non-socially distanced protesters and rioters running rampant? Photo op!

Early mutual admiration between Trump and governors? Gone. Now, Gov. Death, Andrew Cuomo, is the progressive hero who “did it right.”

All wonderfully helpful to the effort to combat COVID-19 while preserving the economy, right? Duh. Politicization has waved the red cape in the bull’s face – provoking the president’s and his supporters’ own worst strike-back instincts. Masks, distancing, returns to normalcy, distribution of resources, even pharmacology – all are sources of bitter division at a time when a sense of common purpose and fealty to science are more vital than ever.

What might a statesperson-like, Vandenbergesque response – one that stopped politics at the virus’ edge and cooled partisan rancor – have looked like? How about the leading presidential candidates together saying, “Perhaps this virus is too deadly to let politics get in the way of a unified national response. Let’s pledge to contribute to the discussion – but not ‘go negative.’”

Or, perchance, Madame Speaker and “Crying Chuck,” behind the scenes, reach out to the White House … and offer to bury the hatchet. Request representation on the administration’s task force for the smartest members from both sides of the aisle. And pledge to fast-track agreed-on resources, free of partisan rancor or advantage-seeking.

The good news: It’s not too late. Not with the coronavirus still stubbornly raging in hot spots here and globally. Serious questions remaining about long-term effects. Reasonable debates about the proper pace of re-opening – and about wisdom and balance when it comes to schoolchildren’s needs.

Is it too much to ask for a modern-day Vandenberg to suggest the equivalent of an Emergency Unity Government to win the COVID War, even in an election year? Or even some level of truce?

Too much to ask, no. Too much to expect from this generation of Democratic scorched-earthers? 100%.

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Bob Maistros

Bob Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is of counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at bob@rpmexecutive.com.

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