Democrats are debating how to best approach the 2018 midterms. Some argue that they must laser-focus on Donald Trump and the unique threat to the country he represents. Others say attacking Trump is not enough, that candidates must highlight a tangible economic agenda to rally voters.
But there’s a way to unite these themes, and it runs through Michael Cohen’s bank account.
Cohen, you recall, reeled in millions of dollars from the likes of AT&T, Novartis, and Korea Aerospace Industries, allegedly providing them with “insight” into his client, President Donald Trump. The money went into the same account out of which Cohen paid off Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her affair with Trump. Cohen, who has no special policy insights that anyone can discern, wasn’t a registered lobbyist, so the payoffs were conducted in secret until Daniels’s lawyer found out about them. The scandal amplified the worst of Washington’s pay-to-play, off-the-books influence industry, so nobody could deny its sleaziness.
This is the fundamental story of the Trump era. As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer puts it, there is only one Trump scandal, and that is corruption. Democrats are faced with hard choices every day on whether to highlight Trump’s colluding with Russian interests, Saudi and Emirati interests, or Chinese interests. They have to think about whether to lead with China’s $500 million loan to the Trump Organization’s hotel business, Paul Ryan’s $24.6 million check from an anonymous Super PAC donor, or Mick Mulvaney’s open solicitation of campaign donations for access.
It’s genuinely hard, but there is an approach that synthesizes the anti-Trump strategy and the economic strategy. It can be summarized thusly: The personal venality of Trump and his cadres has allowed wealthy and powerful interests to rewrite the rules of the country in their favor. The result is rampant deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, and a government that listens to you only if you have your checkbook out.