The sense of betrayal among the self-styled liberal “Resistance” to Donald Trump is palpable. New York Times opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg called it “infuriating” to “see the Senate Democratic leadership” give up the ill-conceived three-day government shutdown and “sell the Dreamers out.” “They blinked,” said outgoing Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, “because they’ll always put the party and the success of the party first.” “Today’s cave by Senate Democrats—led by weak-kneed, right-of-center Democrats—is why people don’t believe the Democratic Party stands for anything,” lamented Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. That word, “cave,” is the same expression Donald Trump’s reelection campaign used to describe how congressional Democrats climbed down from the high-stakes gambit they let get out of hand.

The Democratic Party’s descent into radicalism is eerily familiar to how the GOP surrendered to its activist base in the early days of Barack Obama’s presidency. Too often, the Republican Party’s partisan entertainers and grassroots organizers valued the fight over whatever that fight was supposed to achieve. And when the imprudent conflicts instigated by the activist wing of the GOP ended in failure and ignominious retreat, the instigators would blame the GOP “establishment” for lacking the courage to charge mindlessly into a mincer. This weekend’s short-lived shutdown was a perfect example of precisely how a paradigm that sees reflexive “Resistance” to a presidency as a moral imperative can become self-defeating.

This shutdown had no strategy, no achievable objective, and no way for Democrats to save face when they inevitably backed down. Democrats did not want to go over the brink in service to DACA—just right up to it. How do we know that? The party pursued an almost identical strategy in late December the last time Congress passed a short-term government-funding bill, but backed away from a shutdown at the last minute due to the objections of a critical mass of Democratic members. In the process of shutting down the government last Friday, Democrats were compelled to vote against what they had claimed was their only demand: a resolution that restored long-term funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) without offsets. If the “Resistance” had its way, this shutdown would be ongoing and in service of no feasible end.

The intramural conflict over a shutdown was only the most outwardly visible sign of tensions within the Democratic Party over tactics in the Trump era. Behind the scenes, the party’s pragmatists have been trying to strike a familiar balance between measuring their base voters’ expectations and maintaining their enthusiasm. According to the New York Times, efforts to compel billionaire environmentalist and prolific Democratic donor Tom Steyer to “tone down” his campaign for the impeachment of Donald Trump exemplify this dynamic. Democrats are concerned that Steyer is imprudently raising hopes among Democratic voters that deliverance from the Trump presidency is only a question of whether Democrats have the requisite gumption. For his part, Steyer isn’t listening to his Democratic critics. “We’re just telling the truth to the American people, and it’s an important truth,” Steyer told Times reporter Alex Burns. “And if you don’t think it’s politically convenient for you, that’s too bad.”

Of course, the Democratic Party’s members in Congress are not “Resistance,” they are “opposition.” Liberals may fancy themselves an underground band of partisans heroically opposing fascism and its collaborators, but that mode of thought is self-flattery and it’s blinding. “Resistance” is recalcitrant and inflexible. Opposition is different. Occasionally, opposition is obstructive. At other times, it is compromising. That’s not surrendering; it’s the pursuit of tactical advantage. The goal of opposition is not to preserve moral authority for the day when the Allies march triumphantly down the Champs-Élysées; it’s to position your members ahead of the next election.

The failed shutdown gambit is only the most recent occasion in which Democrats have submitted to the zeal of their partisan base. The Merrick Garland spectacle is another. Stung from the GOP’s successful effort to block Barack Obama’s last appointment to the Supreme Court, grassroots Democrats demanded a grand gesture. The result was a futile effort to block Judge Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the nation’s highest court, forcing Republicans to finish what Harry Reid started and scuttle the filibuster for all judicial appointments. If Democrats don’t yet resent Reid’s sop to the party’s activist base, they should. We’re only one year into the Trump presidency and the Senate GOP has confirmed more of Trump’s appellate court nominees than any other president since Richard Nixon. If another Supreme Court vacancy arises, which can happen at a moment’s notice, Democratic short-sightedness will become apparent to all. All, that is, except the “Resistance.”

It wasn’t all that long ago that Democrats had the GOP pegged. They knew Ted Cruz’s kamikaze run in 2013 was destined only to succeed at raising his political profile ahead of a presidential campaign. They knew that Republicans had abandoned strategy to preserve the energy and fundraising generated by the Tea Party. They knew that the GOP would regret these accommodations one day because, even as the party racked up election victories, it was sacrificing the values for which it once stood. Then, Donald Trump won the presidency, and Democrats forgot. How many of these mistakes will Democrats repeat before they remember again?

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