May 1, 2003: Then-President George W. Bush landed in a jet on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to announce that just a few weeks after his Iraq invasion, all major combat operations would end. It was a made-for-television event. Dominating the picture was a huge sign declaring “Mission Accomplished.” Thousands of combat deaths later, the banner has been so scornfully ridiculed that even Bush admitted he wished it hadn’t been used.
May 7, 2019: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell takes to the Senate floor. He derided Democrats’ insistence on pushing for congressional investigations of President Donald Trump, even though special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe had landed with such an inconclusive thud. “Case closed,” said the Republican leader in his most memorable two-word sound snippet.
Then and now, the best retort might also be summed up in two words: “wishful thinking.” (You were expecting two different words?) Minority Leader Charles Schumer, who has never in his life uttered just two words, summed things up with this: “Our leader saying ‘Let’s move on’ is sort of like Richard Nixon saying ‘Let’s move on’ at the height of the investigation into his wrongdoing.”
His fellow Democrats over on the House side, where they now hold a majority, are bellowing a three-word response every chance they get: “contempt of Congress.” That’s because the administration has decided to refuse every attempt to coerce its figures to appear in person before House committees or to produce any of the tons of documents the House has identified as necessary to pursue all manner of wrongdoing by Donald Trump. Attorney General William Barr, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and anybody in the White House or ever remotely connected to The Donald are being instructed to give their own two-word response.
No matter how flimsy their legal position is, their strategy is a sound one politically. Before they must face any sort of embarrassment or culpability for their past actions, no matter how corrupt, all the matters are deposited into the slowly winding grinders of our court system. Just file creative motions and, no matter how laughable, you can delay accountability until after Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.
That, of course, is Election Day, when it’ll be Trump and his base pitted against the face of the Democrats, whomever that might be. Obviously, it will be a battle of turnouts. Donald Trump can always rev up his troops with his combination of hateful demagoguery and ignorance, reinforced by the massive amount of money his fat-cat Deplorables will put up to create a well-financed smokescreen. The Democrats will have to decide whether they can avoid their usual self-destruction and unite behind one candidate.
They can only hope they don’t fall into the trap of running a “positive” campaign, or a “substantive” one. I know this is heresy, but in modern times of high-tech political brawling, the only place to hit is below the belt.
Give credit to Donald Trump: He doesn’t even bother to pretend. He has raised the veil on a sleazy pursuit, the quest to get elected. He’s the personification of sleaze. He’s also president of the United States, with a good chance of winning a second term. If that actually happens, Democrats argue that the country’s future can be summed up in two words: “We’re doomed.”
(Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.)
© 2019 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.