I mean, really, it’s not complicated. The Democrats don’t have to innovate. The roadmap has been laid out:
The Republicans were pumped because they saw a path out of the political wilderness. They were convinced that even if Obama kept winning policy battles, they could win the broader messaging war simply by remaining unified and fighting him on everything. Their conference chairman, a then-obscure Indiana conservative named Mike Pence, underscored the point with a clip from Patton, showing the general rallying his troops for war against their Nazi enemy: “We’re going to kick the hell out of him all the time! We’re going to go through him like crap through a goose!”
This strategy of kicking the hell out of Obama all the time, treating him not just as a president from the opposing party but an extreme threat to the American way of life, has been a remarkable political success. It helped Republicans take back the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016. This no-cooperation, no-apologies approach is also on the verge of delivering a conservative majority on the Supreme Court; Republicans violated all kinds of Washington norms when they refused to even pretend to consider any Obama nominee, but they paid no electoral price for it—and probably helped persuade some reluctant Republican voters to back Donald Trump in November by keeping the Court in the balance.
As Frances Lee puts it, “every time the president succeeds it hurts the minority party and every time the president fails it helps the minority party.” (Obviously, “minority party” formulation, is a little misleading in this context, but this makes the political benefits of obstructionism even more compelling.) Even if the social science didn’t show this, and McConnell hadn’t shown it, it should be fairly obvious anyway. The typical voter sees politics through the lens of the president. If the president is passing stuff with bipartisan collaboration, the president gets the credit. If there’s gridlock, the president gets blamed. And no, it’s not true that this is only true with a Democratic president in the White House (and, by the way, if you’re going to peddle that theory please to be showing the evidence that Obama got less favorable media coverage than McConnell/Boehner.) I’ll have more on this in the context of the grotesquely cynical Republican plan to get the Democrats to take the blame for Republicans destroying the American health care system, but the optimal Democratic strategy is very straightforward: stop Republicans from passing as much stuff as possible and make sure Republicans fully own whatever crap Ryan and McConnell do pass. This would be the right strategy if Trump was popular. In fact, he’s an unpopular figure who, as Democrats should remind the public at every opportunity, was not chosen by the people. Just say no. The end.