Donald Trump has succeeded in arousing an avalanche of disorganized citizens into a contemporary but less militant version of what we may recall from World War II: The Resistance. This Resistance encompasses former Hillary supporters and Democrats groping for an outlet for their frustration; third and fourth party voters recognizing they bear some responsibility for the current state of affairs; Americans who simply did not vote and now understand the consequences of squeamish indifference; and even a handful of Trump voters who wonder what the hell is going on.
The irony to this wave of presidential disaffection seems not to have bothered most congressional Republicans who have silently absorbed the discontent — reluctant to question their president's love affair with the Russians; refusing to criticize his falsehoods and intemperate tweets; ignoring his blistering verbal assaults on anyone who disagrees with him including the judiciary, global allies, the former president of the United States and John McCain, whom he called unpatriotic. Lets pause for a moment. He called John McCain unpatriotic!
Republicans need to come to grips with the fact that the GOP is no longer Abe Lincoln's Grand Old Party or Ronald Reagan's Conservative Party. It is, as White House aide Steven Miller put it bluntly, Donald Trump's Party — a stunning shift from Lincoln to Trump. Republicans now own Donald Trump. His administration. His executive orders. His tweets. His petulance. His falsehoods. They even own Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway.
But the irony is that while all this rolls off the backs of most Republicans, it has truly dumbfounded many members of the Resistance, particularly our fellow Democrats who carry the burden of the Loyal Opposition. Democrats don't quite know how to go after this flurry of chaotic behavior. Do we attack his policies or his intemperance, his falsehood or his childish notions? Or the relentless exposure of intimacy with the Kremlin, including political chicanery, diplomatic hi-jinx and a complicated web of private and public domestic and global financial allegations including "fertilizer" kings, cabinet appointees, son-in laws, unscrupulous banks, money laundering and Russian oligarchs?
Here is some advice from a couple of Baltimore political veterans: Don't fall prey to the chaos, the constant diversion and the mounting stack of shady behavior. Focus! Focus on a single compelling message that has the power to unify the anti-Trump opposition and attract bipartisan support from increasingly shaky Republicans.
Go back to Watergate's infamous wisdom: Follow the money. Pressure Congress to exercise its authority to instruct the IRS to release a president's tax returns (power Congress assumed in response to the infamous Teapot Dome scandal in 1924).
We know. We know. It didn't work in the campaign. The public's attention was diverted. The press tired of the issue. And Mr. Trump smoothly and successfully stonewalled the matter.
To that we say: Those days are gone. Somewhere in those mysterious tax returns is buried the explanation for his intense stonewalling and bouts of irrational behavior. Critics are closing in. Ethics attorneys for both the Bush and Obama administrations, along with scores of prominent legal scholars, have warned that unless the president authentically separates himself from his global enterprises, he is a walking constitutional crisis. He is a foreign entanglement that would haven infuriated George Washington. He is a business/industrial complex that would have enraged Dwight Eisenhower. He is violation of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause whose penalty is impeachment and perhaps a host of ethics statutes with various penalties.
By most accounts, his feeble effort to con his way through the constitutional and financial conflicts have failed miserably — exposing him, his family, and his administration to recurring questions not often surrounding a sitting president: Is he a Russian stooge — Putin's puppet? Is he in hock to foreign state owned banks? How messy are his partnerships with corrupt strongmen, dictators, human rights violators, crooked billionaires and gangsters? What are his business arrangements with scores of unsavory characters and their countries? Are these arrangements influenced by government policies? Does he have a miserly record of charitable giving? Has he paid any taxes at all? And the most humiliating of all — is he a mogul who is not really a mogul because his global company is actually underwater?
To paraphrase James Carville, "It's the taxes, stupid!"
Focus that vast energy that's already been exhibited — pressuring Congress, attending town meetings, writing letters, clogging telephone lines and crashing websites — on the tax issue. Conduct yourself peacefully, wave the flag, be knowledgeable, persistent and polite. On tax day, promote massive rallies in state capitals and in the nation's capital — millions marching from City Hall to local IRS offices.
Let's not forget that a short while ago, Republicans resisted calls for the firing of Trump's national security adviser; he resigned. A week ago, they resisted the recusal of his attorney general; he recused himself. A few days ago they resisted any suggestion of investigating the Russian scandal; there now are several underway. Inevitably, Republicans will face a public outcry that will force them to do what they did with President Nixon when confronted with the reality of Watergate: cave in to public pressure or lose their seats.
Ted Venetoulis (Ted.Venetoulis@gmail.com) is a former Baltimore County executive; Thomas D'Alesandro Jr. is a former Baltimore City mayor. Both are Democrats.